Monday night's game against the Dolphins wasn't just a fresh start for the enigmatic Geno Smith.
Sure, all eyes were on the second-year quarterback during prime time, but the rest of the schedule serves as an opportunity for other Jets, too.
For several young players on Rex Ryan's team, there is more than just pride on the line. It's a chance to prove to the coaching staff that they deserve their roster spots and far more playing time.
With his team missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season, Ryan conceded that now is the time to see some less experienced players in action.
"That's a possibility," Ryan said last week. "Getting some of the younger guys in. You always try to do that. So I think when we look at it, you may see more of the younger guys get an opportunity.
"Not saying that we're not trying to win a game, because it's the exact opposite. We're trying to do whatever we can to win the game, but we may give some young guys some opportunities."
When peppered by questions two days later about the organization's decision to return to Smith despite decent play by Michael Vick, Ryan reiterated his commitment to winning.
"Do we want to win? We 100 percent want to win," Ryan said. "There is no doubt. But I also said I want to take a look at some young players."
The offseason is sure to bring plenty of change at One Jets Drive. Everyone from general manager John Idzik to Ryan and the rest of the coaching staff is under a microscope -- and it's unclear whether owner Woody Johnson plans to clean house at season's end.
Ryan's back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances after the 2009 and 2010 seasons are distant memories now. His larger-than-life personality and trademark bluster disintegrated as the losing seasons mounted, and he finds himself hanging precipitously close to the edge of his head-coaching tenure in Florham Park.
Much of the Jets' difficulty during the past four years has to do with their erratic quarterback play. Ryan acknowledged that coaching young quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Smith has made things challenging at times.
"It's probably not the easiest thing," he said, "but that's what ends up happening. In an ideal world, you have a guy that's a Pro Bowl player that has played for years and you can come in.
"Peyton Manning would be nice," Ryan joked. "That would have been nice. But that's not what happens. So most of these cases, most quarterbacks take a few years to develop, then you put them in. That's probably the best way to do it in an ideal world, but the two situations we have had have not been ideal."
Unless he had a disastrous performance against the Dolphins, Smith is expected to start the rest of the way, which is not at all surprising. Ryan likely won't be the coach Jan. 1, but the Jets need to know what they have in Smith. The same is true for the rest of the roster.
With Monday's release of pass rusher Antwan Barnes, expect linebackers IK Enemkpali and Trevor Reilly to see more playing time.
"Yeah, that would be a guy that we'd really like to see," Ryan said of Enemkpali, a sixth-round pick of Idzik's.
To the surprise of many, Idzik used all 12 of his draft picks last spring. On Day 3, the Jets had nine picks at their disposal -- their most since 1998, Bill Parcells' second draft. But of those 12 players, four no longer are with the team (fourth-round pick Jalen Saunders, Jeremiah George, Brandon Dixon, Tajh Boyd) and two are on injured reserve (Dexter McDougle, Shaq Evans). First-round safety Calvin Pryor has been underwhelming, according to Ryan.
But at the conclusion of the draft, Idzik touted his scouting department for finding 12 players who would fit seamlessly into the Jets' way of life.
"There's pretty much a common thread with these fellas," Idzik said at the time. "They fit our profile. They're aggressive, they have a passion for our game, they're great teammates. They fit the Jet profile."