CORTLAND, N.Y. - Mark Sanchez earned it.
Although fans have grown tired of his erratic play during the past four seasons, the beleaguered Jets quarterback will start Friday night's preseason opener at Detroit over Geno Smith, Rex Ryan announced Tuesday.
Despite the "ultra-talented'' rookie being "a little bit more dynamic'' than Sanchez -- according to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg -- Sanchez got the nod because of his overall body of work in training camp and his experience.
"It seemed like the natural thing to do,'' Ryan said of starting the incumbent.
"He's been the starter here,'' Mornhinweg said. "The first game would typically be his. But he's earned it as well.''
Asked why the team didn't feel it necessary to see a healthy dose of Smith against the Lions' first-team defense, Mornhinweg said, "Well, we think we know [what we have].''
Despite a "day-and-a-half'' slide early in camp and a shaky start in Saturday's Green and White scrimmage, Sanchez has had an "outstanding'' camp overall, Mornhinweg said.
The coordinator also noted Sanchez's consistency, accuracy and footwork are much improved thanks to time spent with his position coach.
"David Lee has worked his rear end off with the quarterbacks,'' said Mornhinweg, adding that Sanchez's completion percentage is up slightly from previous camps. "Mark has done even more than we've asked, both on and off the field.''
Although the much-hyped Smith started strong, Mornhinweg said he's "dipped just a little bit'' in recent days. The rookie was picked off twice Monday during 7-on-7 drills, and Tuesday he threw his first team-drill interception in nine practices.
Mornhinweg said he expected Smith to struggle early in training camp, but instead the former West Virginia star had a "terrific'' start.
"So we'll see how he rebounds,'' Mornhinweg said. "He's got to power through it . . . He was a little bit better today than he was yesterday, so I think he's back on the rise.''
Smith was 2-for-5 Tuesday, while Sanchez completed 4 of 6 passes.
Although Sanchez has thrown four interceptions in 11-on-11 drills and was picked off by Antonio Cromartie in the team scrimmage, Ryan and Mornhinweg said they like what they've seen from him.
"This is his game,'' said Mornhinweg, who added he was "proud'' of Sanchez for closing out Saturday's scrimmage with a 53-yard touchdown pass to Stephen Hill.
"He'll start and go with the 'ones,' and then we'd certainly like to get Geno in just a little bit with the 'ones.' He'll take the 'twos' and then we'll progress from there.''
With both quarterbacks scheduled to see action with the first team Friday, there's a good chance certain offensive starters will play more than they typically would.
Ryan's announcement comes just a day after he said Jets fans are free to boo Sanchez if they choose. But Ryan was quick to point out Tuesday that the competition between Sanchez and Smith is far from over.
"The preseason doesn't end after this first preseason game,'' he said. "We said this is going to be equal competition . . . and that's exactly what it's going to be.''