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Jets throw rookie Geno Smith into deep end

Jets quarterback Geno Smith, who was not scheduled

Jets quarterback Geno Smith, who was not scheduled to play, throws some passes an hour before game time. Jacksonville Jaguars at the New York Jets preseason football. (Aug. 17, 2013) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The paradigm shift has been so dramatic and so fundamental that rookie quarterbacks no longer are given the luxury of time to become acclimated to the NFL. The learning curve is so advanced and the expectation level so high that first-year passers now are viewed more as finished products rather than uncertain apprentices.

The remarkably smooth transitions by last year's rookie class of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson only reinforced the trend, and Joe Flacco, a first-year starter in 2008, is the reigning Super Bowl MVP.

Welcome to life as a Week 1 starter in today's NFL, Geno Smith. Best of luck.

The Jets' second-round pick has been thrust into the starter's role after a training camp competition with Mark Sanchez that featured plenty of twists and turns, the last of which was an injury to Sanchez's throwing shoulder that gave Rex Ryan no other choice than to anoint Smith as his starter against the Bucs on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

But just because Smith gets the start doesn't mean he will become the latest to join the growing list of impressive rookie passers who don't need the benefit of time in making the quantum leap from college to the pros. It's probably best to tamp down expectations for Smith, and keep open the possibility -- or is it likelihood? -- that the Jets will probably turn back to the embattled Sanchez at some point after he returns from his injury.

Smith has a terrific arm, a natural air of confidence and is liked by his teammates, all the necessary ingredients if you want to be a great quarterback at this level. But those traits alone don't guarantee success, and by the look of Smith's one step forward, two steps back progression during the offseason and training camp, he isn't ready to succeed just yet.

The last time Smith was under center, he looked ready to hold a clipboard and let Sanchez endure a torturous first-half schedule with eight of nine games against potential playoff teams. It starts with the Bucs, whose rebuilt secondary includes former Jet Darrelle Revis, high-priced free-agent safety Dashon Goldson and safety Mark Barron, a 2012 first-round pick.

Smith looked anything but ready to be an NFL starter when he threw three interceptions and took a safety against the Giants, and had Ryan not foolishly put Sanchez in behind a scrub line that couldn't protect him, we'd probably be talking about Sanchez as the Week 1 starter. But Rex instead will get an early look at what the kid can do because Sanchez is not fully healed from a nasty shoulder bruise.

And maybe that's why Ryan wasn't willing to anoint Smith Wednesday as his long-range starter. He wasn't even willing to say Smith is the starter because he beat out Sanchez in camp, or whether it's solely because of Sanchez's injury. Channeling his inner Eric Mangini, Rex offered more of his say-nothing gobbledygook that has become all too commonplace during his once-riveting news briefings.

"Our focus is strictly this game,'' Ryan said. "So whether week to week, I don't know, what the heck, we're not thinking past Tampa. This whole team is not thinking past Tampa in anything.''

Is this really the guy who once guaranteed Super Bowls? Even Bill Belichick is more engaging these days, the latest sign that Ryan knows not to talk when he knows he doesn't have the players to compete.

But this is the hand he's been dealt, and Smith is his best alternative at this point. Soon he'll find out plenty about whether the kid is up to the task. Next week, there's a Thursday night game at New England.

Twelve years ago, a young Tom Brady ascended to the No. 1 job after Drew Bledsoe was felled by an injury against the Jets. It was the beginning of a legendary career. The Jets can only hope a similar scenario unfolds for Smith. The advice here is don't hold your breath waiting for it to happen.

Geno isn't ready.

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