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QB battle at center of Jets camp

Left to right: Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy, center,

Left to right: Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy, center, and Geno Smith. (James Escher) Credit: Left to right: Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy, center, and Geno Smith. (James Escher)

After a tumultuous offseason, the Jets report to training camp Thursday with questions all around. But make no mistake, this team will rise and fall with the quality of play it receives from the winner of the Mark Sanchez vs. Geno Smith quarterback competition.

A year ago, Sanchez finished 31st in the NFL quarterback rating, tied for 30th with 18 interceptions and tied for 25th with 13 touchdown passes.

Despite the departure of tight end Dustin Keller, uncertainty surrounding the offensive line and the health of wideout Santonio Holmes, along with a new offensive coordinator in Marty Mornhinweg, the Jets are hoping Sanchez can rebound in 2013 and develop into a quality pocket passer.

Anticipating drastic improvement from Sanchez may be unrealistic, but it’s the former fifth-overall pick’s only hope of fending off Smith, who completed 71.8% of his passes last season at West Virginia.

Regardless, this competition may come down to experience rather than talent. The Jets open the season with a Week 1 home matchup against former Jets star Darrelle Revis and the Buccaneers, and will then travel to New England in Week 2.

Unless Smith clearly outperforms Sanchez in camp, coach Rex Ryan may shy away from playing his rookie signal caller in two tough early games. If Sanchez falters off the bat, Ryan could ease Smith into the starting role with a Week 3 matchup against the Bills, and then against the Titans in Week 4.

No matter what Ryan says, this quarterback competition will not end after the preseason. Every game will be its own evaluation period, and every snap will be put under a microscope. Each player must be able to handle the pressure, or else the team could wind up with a similar controversy next offseason.

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