By Steve Silverman
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The most important Jet this season won’t even take the field.

The Jets are risking their season on new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s ability to build a cohesive game plan, find a decent quarterback and teach him the habits that are needed to win in the NFL.

If Mornhinweg can do his job exceptionally well and give the Jets an outstanding plan of attack and work with a quarterback like David Garrard, Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith (see Thursday’s draft), the Jets may have a chance to become a .500 team or slightly better. If he’s merely an improvement over Tony Sparano – known to this columnist as Coach Meatball – the Jets will have another disaster on their hands.

It’s not about Rex Ryan this year. Ryan will only go as far as his offense will take him. Professional football has changed so much in the last 15 years that it’s not about building a team with a dominant defense.

Defense still counts, but it’s about getting a key stop or a big turnover. You can’t stop the best offenses in the game on a consistent basis. The rules and the quality of opposing offenses won’t allow it.

Mornhinweg understands this. While he was a disaster when he was a head coach with the Detroit Lions, he has shown an understanding of modern NFL offense. He will at least join the fight.

He does not go about his job like Sparano. When Coach Meatball was directing the offense, he wanted to avoid mistakes and play conservative football. He was not playing the same game the Patriots, Bills or Dolphins played in the AFC East.

Mornhinweg knows that he is up against it. The best thing the Jets have going for them at the quarterback position appears to be Garrard. He is a career overachiever who has not thrown a pass in anger since the 2010 season.

He was on his way toward winning the starting job in Miami last summer when a knee injury sidelined him at the most critical part of training camp and that cost him his opportunity.

Garrard, 35, has to stay healthy because Sanchez is not the right man for the job. Mornhinweg will find out what the Jets fans already know. Sanchez simply makes too many mistakes to play in a competent West Coast offense.

The X-factor may well be Smith. The Jets are going to get a chance to draft him because of the Darrelle Revis trade with Tampa Bay. Taking him with the 13th pick in the draft (from Tampa Bay) is a gamble and the odds are not in the Jets’ favor because Smith has issues.

However, all of Smith’s flaws are correctable. If he gets with the right offensive coordinator – who must also serve as a quarterback guru – he does have a chance to become a solid NFL leader.

Smith has a strong arm and he looks the part of an NFL leader. He moves well and he can avoid pressure. He can look off the defense and then move to a secondary receiver if his primary target is not open.

But Smith needs a lot of work – primarily in the way he thinks through the game. Smith will usually find the primary pass rushers, but a disguised blitzer gives him trouble.

Once he gets hit early in the game, he tends to worry and think about that play. The best quarterbacks put early mistakes out of their minds and move on to the next play. Smith seemed to worry and lose his confidence when he made mistakes at West Virginia.

That kind of attitude doesn’t compare with last year’s rookie phenoms at the position. While Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson all were excellent physical talents, their confidence and outlook were light years ahead of where Smith is at this point.

Unless Mornhinweg can teach Smith quickly and effectively, he would have to be brought along slowly.

Garrard should get the job in that case, because Sanchez is not going to change. He can hold a clipboard — and that’s it.

The other quarterbacks on the roster – Tim Tebow and Greg McElroy – may not even survive training camp.

The chances of success for the Jets this season are not great, but they rest with Mornhinweg.


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