Mark Sanchez to start second preseason game; Geno Smith's status unclear

Mark Sanchez (6) looks on during training camp

Mark Sanchez (6) looks on during training camp in Cortland. (Aug. 12, 2013) (Credit: Hans Pennink)

Rex Ryan had no problem laying out his Saturday night plan for Mark Sanchez. But Geno Smith's status for Week 2 of the preseason remains a mystery.

Hours after the team announced via Twitter that Sanchez will start against Jacksonville at MetLife Stadium, Ryan refused to say whether Smith will play at all against the Jaguars -- or whether the rookie quarterback will face the Giants in Week 3 of the preseason if he's healthy enough.

"We'll see how the rest of the week goes to make that decision," the Jets coach told reporters on a conference call Thursday afternoon.

He said Sanchez will play the first half Saturday with the rest of the starters.

Ryan said there were two main factors in his decision to start the embattled incumbent for a second straight week:

No. 1? Smith's lingering ankle injury.

"And also, the fact that Mark has practiced well," Ryan said. "That's really kind of what led to our decision."

Sanchez was 10-for-13 for 125 yards and a touchdown as the starter in the preseason opener against the Lions. He bounced back nicely after throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown early.

It seemed like Smith would be the logical choice to start Saturday. But his ankle injury, suffered early in the third quarter against the Lions, has only helped to muddle the quarterback competition. And the rookie did himself no favors on Wednesday when he threw three interceptions during team drills and also had a deflected pass picked off in 7-on-7s.

After practice, Ryan admitted Smith's ankle "isn't close to 100 percent." But he nevertheless labeled the performance "brutal" and called it "Geno's worst day" of training camp.

"That's the reality of it," Ryan said Thursday, defending his word choice. "Now, has he had some phenomenal days? Absolutely.

" . . . I never sugarcoated it. I said the truth. If people have a problem with it, I'm telling the truth. It was a poor day. It was a brutal day. Four or five interceptions, I don't know what else you could call it."

Ryan, who reiterated the training staff told him Smith was healthy enough to practice, said he understands why some think the Jets should have erred on the side of caution with the first-year quarterback. But because the Jets are currently installing a new offensive system, "we thought that he would definitely benefit from getting those reps," Ryan said.

Thursday was the team's final day at SUNY Cortland before returning to their Florham Park facilities for the duration of training camp. Ryan said players went to morning meetings before taking part in a conditioning practice. Smith rode the stationary bike.

Ryan said no players have been ruled out for Saturday's game yet. Asked if Smith will see any action with the first-team offense, Ryan said, "We'll see."

If Smith is unable to suit up against the Jaguars, that leaves just backup Greg McElroy -- who rolled his ankle in practice this week -- and Matt Simms behind Sanchez. McElroy was held out of team drills Wednesday and only led the scout-team offense. Referring to McElroy's status for Saturday, Ryan said they'll "play that by ear."

Armed with only noncommittal answers about Smith's status for Saturday, Ryan insisted the rookie hasn't yet been ruled out. "Let's be clear on that," he said. "It seems like there's an assumption that he will absolutely not play in this game. That decision has yet to be made."

The coach also refused to say whether Sanchez is ahead of Smith in the quarterback race.

"We're not going to get into who's ahead, who's not," Ryan said. "I'll say that right now the competition is not complete and there's still time to make that decision."

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