DETROIT - The slate has been wiped clean for Mark Sanchez.
Past transgressions have been put behind him and replaced by renewed optimism about what he can be: a complete and confident quarterback thriving in Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast system.
By no means does Friday night's start against the Lions prove Sanchez will inherit the starting job in the regular season. But the Jets' preseason opener here could be his first official step toward reclaiming the role he believes is rightfully his.
Without any hesitation, Sanchez told reporters he has "earned the right'' to get first-team reps over Geno Smith. And now the fifth-year quarterback, who helped the Jets reach the AFC title game in his first two seasons before Buttfumbling his way into a quarterback competition with a rookie, must prove to his coaches and teammates that he deserves a fresh start.
"I am in there with an open mind,'' Rex Ryan said of evaluating the quarterback competition. "Sure, I know what's happened in the past, but if you really are focused on the past, am I supposed to go back one season or how far am I supposed to go back? So, to me, I'd rather focus on the present and what's in front of us.''
Depending on how tonight's game and the games to come unfold, of course, Smith could end up being in front of Sanchez for good.
To the Jets' surprise, the rookie remained poised and kept pace with Sanchez at the start of training camp. Smith even outshined him with his arm strength and flair for delivering big-time throws downfield. The rookie's impressive streak of zero interceptions in team drills was snapped Tuesday during a recent dip in his practice performance, but Mornhinweg noted Smith has regrouped.
"I think he's back on the rise,'' the offensive coordinator said.
Though Smith will be relegated to working mostly with the backups in his first NFL game, the 22-year-old isn't in the least bit threatened by his competition. Asked if he considers himself the underdog in this two-man race, Smith said matter-of-factly: "Not one bit.''
It's unclear exactly how many first-team reps each quarterback will get against the Lions, but Sanchez is certain to see the bulk of the action with the starters. Both he and Smith, however, will have to make do with a limited running game because of injuries to Chris Ivory (hamstring) and Joe McKnight (head injury) and the prolonged -- and unexplained -- absence of free-agent signee Mike Goodson.
Ivory and McKnight didn't make the Motor City trip, along with center Dalton Freeman, fullback Lex Hilliard, wide receiver Santonio Holmes (PUP), linebacker Josh Mauga, wide receiver Titus Ryan and offensive lineman Brian Winters.
But right now, neither quarterback is focused on the Jets' roster limitations. Especially Sanchez.
"He seems pretty focused in what he's doing,'' center Nick Mangold said. "Any time I peek in the room, he's studying or watching film or getting his own little rehab in. I think he's focused and he's got a desire to win the job and they're putting together a pretty good competition so far, I believe.''
Asked about Sanchez, Mornhinweg said: "This is his game.''
But will he get to start another?