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All eyes on rookie quarterback Geno Smith in his start against Giants

Geno Smith #7 of the Jets warms up

Geno Smith #7 of the Jets warms up before their preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium. (Aug. 17, 2013) Credit: Getty

The stage now belongs to Geno Smith.

The Jets' rookie quarterback finally will get the chance to prove he can be the face of the franchise -- in front of the home crowd and against the Giants, no less.

And the ever-confident Smith loves nothing more than a good challenge.

"If I get a chance to start, it's going to be big for me," he said Wednesday, the day before Rex Ryan made the announcement that Smith will start the team's third preseason game.

Despite the coach's meandering explanation about needing to wait until "the appropriate time" to select Saturday night's starter, it always was likely that, if healthy, Smith would see the bulk of the first-half action. But while he tries to outrun the Giants' defense, he'll also be trying to distance himself from Mark Sanchez.

The embattled fifth-year quarterback -- who had a "terrific camp," according to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and started the team's first two preseason games -- is expected to play in the third quarter with the starters.

Experience remains the biggest edge Sanchez has over Smith, and "there is no substitute for it," Mornhinweg noted. But Smith has momentum on his side. After sitting out last week's preseason win over the Jaguars with a sprained right ankle, he had his best week of practice.

"I think he got mentally tougher from it," quarterbacks coach David Lee said Thursday. "Now, today was by far the quickest and the best he's looked."

Unlike Sanchez, Smith is like a shiny new toy that Jets fans are desperate to play with. And all of Jets Nation is anxious to see if the rookie has the confidence and the wherewithal to command the huddle, take care of the football and stretch the field.

"I'm most impressed with his composure," right guard and Hofstra product Willie Colon said. "His ability to come out of the huddle and get the plays going and get guys lined up. It seems like he has a good grasp of the offense and he's a competitor. So I have a lot of faith in him."

The Giants won't be at full strength without playmakers Victor Cruz, Jason Pierre-Paul and Antrel Rolle, but facing "live bullets," as Ryan termed it, will be a good test.

And with Sanchez standing on the sideline, Smith will have a chance to make a splash in a seemingly tight quarterback race.

Notes & quotes: The Jets re-signed offensive tackle Jason Smith Friday.

New York Sports