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Ankle injury might hamper Geno Smith in race to be Jets starting quarterback

Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) is examined during

Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) is examined during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Detroit. (Aug. 9, 2013) Credit: AP

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- There's a chance Mark Sanchez could win the Jets' starting quarterback job by default.

With Geno Smith's early exit from Friday night's preseason loss in Detroit -- and the uncertainty surrounding the rookie's right ankle -- the competition between the two could end sooner than many expected.

But Smith -- who rolled his ankle while trying to scramble to his left early in the third quarter of a 26-17 loss to the Lions -- downplayed the pain and insists he'll do everything in his power to get back on the practice field and into next Saturday's preseason game against Jacksonville. The Jets didn't have a practice session Saturday.

But the always-confident Smith (5-for-6 for 47 yards) admitted there's no way to tell if his injury will be a major setback in his quest to beat out Sanchez.

"Being able to go out there and get reps in practice, I don't know how that'll go," he said Friday night, adding that an X-ray revealed "no breaks, no fractures or anything, so everything should be good."

"I'll have to obviously follow the orders of the trainers and the coaches. But I'm just going to continue to work it and just put myself in a good position,'' he said. "It's similar to a basketball injury. You see guys roll their ankles all the time. I was just scrambling out to my left, made a sharp cut and the turf kind of slipped from under me and my ankle rolled."

If it had been Week 1 of the regular season, Smith said he would have gone back out to finish what he started. Meanwhile, the battle to be the best quarterback in Jets camp will continue whether he's fully healthy or not.

Sanchez was far from perfect in his three drives against the Lions, but he rebounded from an early pick-6 in a big way and played better than Smith, who appeared tentative.

Instead of falling apart after his ill-advised screen pass that Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah ran back 14 yards for a touchdown, Sanchez put together an impressive drive that culminated in a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Cumberland that cut the Lions' lead to 10-7.

"You can't let 'em see you sweat," said the fifth-year quarterback, who finished 10-for-13 for 125 yards.

Rex Ryan said he was so focused on defensive issues that he "never really focused a whole lot" when Smith was on the field and added that he "never saw" Sanchez's interception "until the tail end of it." But maybe that's a good thing for Sanchez, whose pick-6 to Ansah was as maddening as all of his other misguided throws to no one in particular.

It's understandable that a defensive-minded head coach would be more in tune with the progress of his preferred unit. But with so much riding on the outcome of the Jets' quarterback competition, Ryan probably will need to show he's just as invested in the state of the offense -- and Smith's sore ankle -- as coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

Maybe this will be the week Ryan chooses to focus on the offensive issues that also are plaguing his team.

Notes & quotes: Former Rutgers and Giants fullback Joe Martinek worked out with the Jets Saturday afternoon, his agent, Donal Henderson, told Newsday. With fullback Lex Hilliard sidelined by a rib injury, according to a source, seventh-round draft pick Tommy Bohanon is the only healthy fullback on the roster . . . Running back John Griffin, who suffered a fracture in his lower leg Friday night, had an MRI Saturday.

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