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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Rex Ryan right to keep Geno Smith as starter

Geno Smith Rex Ryan pose for photos after

Geno Smith Rex Ryan pose for photos after beating the Cleveland Browns. (Dec. 22, 2013) Credit: Lee S. Weissman

The public pronouncement about the Jets' starting quarterback was made shortly after 4 p.m. on June 18, when offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg told a small group of reporters that Geno Smith would get approximately 75 percent of the snaps in training camp.


Despite Rex Ryan's constant reminders that there would be "competition" between Smith and Michael Vick, this was a preordained decision.

And that was a good thing. That was the right thing.

Although there are plenty of skeptics who argue that Mornhinweg and Ryan should have staged an open competition for the starter's job between a second-year quarterback coming off an 8-8 season and an established veteran in Vick, the Jets actually have taken the most sensible approach by making Smith the presumptive starter.

It doesn't guarantee Smith will take a significant step forward after last year's up-and-down season, nor does it mean that Ryan and his second-year offensive coordinator can't make a change if Smith struggles for a prolonged period during the regular season. But with so much invested in Smith over the long term, and with a nucleus of good, young players surrounding him, it makes sense that Smith is given the opportunity to make this his team for the foreseeable future.

At 34, Vick certainly remains a viable alternative, and there's certainly the chance that he ends up playing a significant amount if Smith is injured or if he fails -- and I mean if he demonstrably fails -- at leading the offense.

But Vick is playing on a one-year deal, and there is no telling what will happen to him down the road. No doubt he will want to keep his options open next season -- which could mean a chance at being the Jets starter if Smith fizzles.

No, the smart move was to do as the Jets are doing: Give Smith the chance to show he is ready to be the Jets' answer at the most important position on the team.

Smith will take the next step in that process Thursday night when the Jets entertain another young quarterback, Andrew Luck, and his Indianapolis Colts at MetLife Stadium in the preseason opener for both teams.

With Vick himself suggesting that Smith "will be 10 times better than where he was last year," it's another chance for Smith to cement his stature with his coaches and teammates. And it's another chance for Ryan to show a more mature approach to a quarterback position that often has been his undoing as a head coach.

For all of Ryan's magnetism and brilliance as a defensive coach, his inability to manage his quarterbacks properly has been a consistent theme during many of his first five seasons in New York.

He fell in love with Mark Sanchez before the 2009 draft, convincing general manager Mike Tannenbaum to make a blockbuster trade with the Browns to get the USC quarterback. But after seeing Sanchez be the beneficiary of a great defense and terrific running game in getting to the AFC Championship Game his first two seasons, Ryan oversaw a major regression, prompted in part by the coach's own inability to figure out exactly what he wanted on offense.

Ryan used to think he and Sanchez would be together for the long haul.

"He's going to be our quarterback for as long as I'm here, which I hope is a long, long time," Ryan said of Sanchez when he was struggling late in the 2011 season. "We know we got the right guy."

After that season, Ryan dumped offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and brought in his pal Tony Sparano to run the "Ground & Pound" offense. Ryan also signed off on bringing in Tim Tebow to run the Wildcat offense, a preposterous idea that proved Sanchez's undoing that season. Sparano rightly was fired after only one season.

Ryan messed it up again last year, when he put Sanchez back into a preseason game in the fourth quarter against the Giants and saw Sanchez's season end with a shoulder injury. The injury never should have happened and indirectly was a result of Rex's foolhardiness.

As it turned out, the opportunity for Smith proved to be a good one, a season-long showcase that gave the Jets enough confidence to keep him as the starter and bring in Vick as a legitimate backup. This time, Ryan is doing the smart thing by paying heed to Mornhinweg's sensible approach of bringing along his talented younger quarterback, while still having Vick as a viable alternative in the event of an injury or ineffectiveness.

And if a change is to be made, the reasons will be self evident. If Smith is struggling over a prolonged period of time -- we're talking a few games, not just a few quarters or a few series -- then it will be time for Vick. And if Smith continues to show the kind of confidence and composure, the way he has so far in training camp, then the Jets will have a completely sensible structure at quarterback: a capable young talent with a capable veteran behind him.

Vick is certainly eager to play again, yet the maturity he has shown in being a consistent supporter of Smith makes the situation all the more reliable. And if circumstances do change and prompt the Jets to go with Vick, then both he and Smith will know it to be the appropriate time.

Six years into Ryan's tenure, it appears he's finally getting it right.

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