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With playoff hopes gone, Jets will audition younger players

Jets safety Josh Bush participates in OTAs in

Jets safety Josh Bush participates in OTAs in Florham Park, N.J. (May 22, 2013) Credit: James Escher

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The playoffs no longer are in play, but the final two games of the season are just as critical for the Jets.

It's evaluation time here at One Jets Drive, which means a lot of young players, particularly on defense, finally will get a chance to prove they deserve a roster spot.

The assessment of Geno Smith, however, has been ongoing. And the expectations for the rookie will be the same in the next two games: a "high level of play on a consistent basis,'' offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. But when it comes to the development of quarterbacks, every guy is different, Mornhinweg said.

Smith is second in the league in interceptions (21), behind only the Giants' Eli Manning (25), and has thrown only two of his 10 touchdown passes in the past seven games. But after 14 games, Mornhinweg said he has no doubt Smith has all the tools to get better.

"He's got skill and ability. He's a bright young man,'' Mornhinweg said. "He's got instincts. So he's got a lot of things, really good things, and they show.''

Reiterating Rex Ryan's comments from Wednesday, Mornhinweg said Smith's "great progress'' isn't necessarily discernible on the stat sheet.

"He's certainly progressed. We, as a team and as an offense, certainly, have progressed,'' Mornhinweg said. "And he, as a quarterback, has taken some pretty good steps forward and then we've taken some steps back and then taken some steps forward. I felt like we had to restart almost a few weeks back. But that's kind of the big picture of how I see that.

"I don't think there's any question. I'm even more certain now than I was earlier that he could be a really good one.''

Despite Smith's shaky performances, Ryan highlighted the fact that he has led the Jets to four late-game victories. That's why he believes it's important to wait until after the season to judge Smith's entire body of work.

But continued improvement isn't the mission for only Smith.

"This is an important time for many of the individuals on this team,'' Mornhinweg said. "It's an important time for our football team. It's an important time for our offense. It's an important time for the organization. These situations are important in many different ways. We're looking for continued improvement in many areas.''

The same is true on defense. Coordinator Dennis Thurman stressed that he and Ryan will use the "entire defensive roster the next couple weeks'' in an attempt to get more reps for younger guys, particularly safeties Josh Bush and Jaiquawn Jarrett.

"We're trying to win the game,'' Thurman said, "but we're also looking to let guys have the opportunity to go out there and see what they can do.'' He added that the team still thinks "very highly'' of Bush, a sixth-round pick in 2012.

Despite having numerous young defensive backs on the roster, the coaching staff has opted to go with safeties who share Baltimore ties with Ryan and Thurman. Dawan Landry consistently has started over Bush because he's "vital'' to the secondary's communication, and midseason addition Ed Reed often has started over Antonio Allen, a seventh-rounder last year, purely because of matchups, Thuman said.

But with no playoffs on the line, the youngsters will get more chances to shine.

"It can be difficult,'' Thurman said of balancing the need to win with evaluation time. "But yet we have to try and do it. It's something that's important to us . . . so that's what we're going to try to do.''

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