David Lee prides himself on being brutally honest.
His Southern-sounding twang helps to take the sting off of his sharp critiques, but both Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith know what’s expected of them.
Lee, the Jets new quarterbacks coach, is anxiously awaiting the very moment one signal-caller separates himself. But after speaking to Lee for almost 10 minutes Wednesday, neither QB seems close to being named the starter.
“Both of them have had days where they both look good and the next day they both look real good and then the next day, they don’t look good together,” Lee said. “They don’t make it easy. They won’t separate right now. We’ve got time right now. The greatest way to evaluate them is in a ballgame.”
And, according to Lee, both QBs could fare well in Marty Mornhinweg’s West Coast system.
“It’s good, it’s exciting,” he said of the new offense. “They like it and they’ve grasped a glimpse of the explosiveness of what it can be. We will go downfield fast in a hurry. Marty can really call plays the day of the game. He said, ‘You guys be ready. I’ll call anything any time and we won’t hold anything back,’ whether Geno’s in there or Mark’s in there.”
Geno’s ‘struggling with basic things’
Lee said it’s “not unrealistic at all” to think the rookie can be ready to start by September. But Smith first must master the basics.
When the Jets drafted Smith with the 39th overall pick in the April draft, Jet Nation (and members of the media) seemed ready to crown him the new face of the franchise. But don’t expect the West Virginia product to be at the same level as some of the premier mobile QBs in the game.
“His system at a West Virginia, there are no similarities whatsoever versus, say, a Russell Wilson who was in the West Coast offense for three years at NC State, then he goes to Wisconsin -- West Coast. Had four years in it.
“Geno doesn’t have that luxury so it’s been a brand new world every day. Just struggling with the basic things: snap count at the line of scrimmage; delivery in the huddle can be more consistent. Little things are really what’s killing him. But he’s competed well and he’s shown us he’s got a really good arm and he’s in the thick of this thing, no question. He gets better every day and he’s going to hear it all for the second time in training camp, so I expect him to get even better quicker.”
When Smith’s footwork is on-point, “success follows him like no quarterback I’ve ever coached,” said Lee.
The rookie – a self-described “film junkie” – has impressed the coaching staff with his dedication in the classroom. Now, it’s on Smith to parlay that knowledge on the football field.
“He’s got it in the classroom, he answers it in the test,” Lee said. “But we get out here in the heat of the battle, and there are six or seven coming and he’s got a hot [read] and he loses his footwork. He’s just got to do it over and over and it will come.”
While Rex Ryan said it’s possible the Jets could devise a special package for Smith – à la, Colin Kaepernick or (gasp!) Tim Tebow – Lee cautioned the Jets rookie doesn’t possess blazing speed.
“He’s fast, but he’s not Kaepernick fast,” said the position coach. “Geno can run, but Kaernick’s a Jet. I wouldn’t put him in the RG3 or Kaepernick speed of last year.”
“Fifty-two TOs in two years is not conducive to winning”
Lee is adamant that Sanchez can in the NFL. But in order to do so, the fifth-year QB has to shed some bad habits: namely fumbling the football.
Lee even renamed their gauntlet drill – which reinforces the need for the QBs to keep two hands on the football when in the pocket – “The Sanchez Drill.”
“He doesn’t like it,” Lee said. “But that’s the purpose. Rex told me when he hired me, ‘If you just get him to hold onto the ball, we’ll get a whole lot better in a hurry.”
Keeping both hands on the football just isn’t something that comes “naturally” to Sanchez – even after nine OTAs and minicamp, said Lee. But protecting the football is paramount, obviously.
“Fifty-two turnovers in two years is not conducive to winning in our league,” Lee said. “Mark can win in our league. He’s proven that. He’s played for championships and I’m blatantly honest. I’ve told him the best thing you can do to help our team is take care of the ball.”
One might assume Sanchez would have an automatic edge over Smith given his years of playing in the NFL. But Lee said both QBs are on equal footing given the new offense.
“Mark hasn’t been a West Coast Offense-quarterback either,” he said. “Mark has been here four years. You can have a bad year. He had a bad year. So what? It’s like I told him the first time I met him: ‘Just flush it, forget it and don’t listen to radio, don’t listen to TV, don’t listen to you people.’ …You’ve got to take care of the ball, get in and out of the huddle, hit what you’re aiming at, avoid disasters and that will give us a chance to win.
“Geno’s a talented kid, he’s got a strong, live arm. He’s jumped in this competition in a hurry. The great thing I’ve seen with Mark Sanchez is, he’s competed his tail off. He hasn’t backed down. We told him it’s an open competition. The best guy’s going to get the job and we will continue to look at both of them.”
It’s a two-man race
For months, Ryan and general manager John Idzik stressed the QB competition would be open to all signal-callers on the roster. But Lee confirmed what most of us knew all along.
As evidenced by their sparse practice snaps, Matt Simms and Greg McElroy are a distant third and fourth in this two-man race.
“Greg McElroy needs to get it down the field….Get the ball out of the hands and he’s done it recently,” said Lee. “It took a lot of practices to do it.”
Meanwhile, Matt Simms -- who has gotten most of the third-string snaps ahead of McElroy -- has “a cannon for an arm.”
"The “best arm of the four,” according to Lee.“If his accuracy was better, he’d be in the thick of the hunt.”