FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Color Rex Ryan concerned.
The Jets coach is so worried about rookie quarterback Geno Smith's penchant for turnovers -- 11 this season, including four that led to Tennessee touchdowns last Sunday -- that he briefly considered reviving the old remedial "red light-green light'' play system he invoked in Mark Sanchez's rookie year.
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Back in 2009, Ryan devised a wristband for Sanchez that labeled plays "red, yellow and green'' in terms of how aggressive he could be with the ball. But the words were barely out of Ryan's mouth Wednesday when he met with the media before he was on ESPN Radio executing a U-turn by saying he won't try the color-coded system.
Ryan's musings were an indication of the urgency he feels to right the ship while it's still his to sail under new general manager John Idzik. "Clearly, we have things we have to fix, and protecting the football is the No. 1 thing alongside penalties,'' Ryan said.
No one ever broached the subject of a color-coded system with Smith, who was somewhat taken aback after practice when the media peppered him with questions about it. "We haven't discussed anything like that,'' Smith said.
But turnovers are his top priority, too. Asked for his thoughts on playing Monday Night Football in Atlanta, Smith said, "It's another chance to go out there and take care of that football. I'm really emphasizing taking care of the ball, not putting it on the ground, not having any interceptions.''
The rookie was preaching what he had just finished practicing. He lost two egregious fumbles at Tennessee, when the ball was batted out of his hand while running in the open field and when he tried putting it behind his back while being sacked in his end zone.
So Smith went through ball-protection drills with the running backs yesterday.
"They had me in the running back turnover circuit with the ball high and tight,'' he said. "I had guys ripping at it. That's how it is in the game. You're a bit tired and you're running around and guys are ripping at it, but you've got to hold onto it."
Don't be surprised if the Jets place more emphasis on the running game. As Ryan joked, "We're thinking about putting the Wishbone in. That would be something, wouldn't it?''
The "ground and pound'' style is what really got Sanchez over the hump as a rookie, not the colored wristband. Lately, Bilal Powell has been running well, and the Jets get Mike Goodson back from suspension and might have Chris Ivory off the injury list. Running the ball is the best way to keep it away from the Falcons' high-powered offense.
Passing will be tougher because starting wide receivers Santonio Holmes (hamstring) and Stephen Hill (concussion) are unlikely to play. That leaves a thin group of Jeremy Kerley, Clyde Gates and rookie Ryan Spadola plus former Buffalo wideout David Nelson, who practiced for the first time Wednesday since his signing. The 6-5 receiver was cut by Cleveland in camp but has 94 NFL catches, including 61 in 2011 with the Bills.
"I think Dave is going to be a big-time target for us,'' Smith said. "He's got a great body frame; he's got speed; he's got great hands.''
As Smith and this Jets team should know by now, "great hands'' are vital to success in the NFL.