By Ernie Palladino
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For all those who were itching to head up to Cortland to see the Mark Sanchez-Geno Smith fight, er, quarterback competition, you might want to change those plans.
If it goes according to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s plan, the Jets’ starting-quarterback situation will be settled faster than a speeding hollow-point bullet. Mornhinweg apparently wants this thing in the rearview mirror by the time camp opens, which means that Smith and Sanchez have 10 OTAs, a three-day minicamp, a handful of classroom sessions and some weight-room workouts to separate themselves from each other.
That’s an ambitious plan, and perhaps a little reckless considering that nothing in the offseason happens in pads. Players do look and act differently when dressed in full battle regalia, after all. But considering what has come out of Florham Park this offseason, settling this matter well ahead of schedule actually stands as one of the franchise’s better ideas.
It’s a risk, surely. The choice of jockey who will ride this ragged nag of a team can easily backfire, considering the alternatives of a veteran quarterback whose career has spiraled out of control and a cocky but flawed rookie who is said to collapse when the going gets rough. Still, it’s a risk worth taking.
A quick settlement will have a two-fold benefit. First and foremost, it will allow the chosen one — and yes, put that in quotes if you wish — a maximum of first-unit snaps during camp. As unsexy as that sounds, consider that the first-team offense will consist of new faces at left and right guard, and a wide receiver in Santonio Holmes who missed most of last season.
The extra time with the veteran will help all the receivers get on the same page. The starting backfield — whoever gets that job — will have ample time to fine tune the nuanced aspects of Mornhinweg’s West Coast system.
If the guy is Smith, it stands to reason that everybody will have his hands full adapting to a rookie quarterback who spent most of his college life in the shotgun formation. The timing involved in taking the under-center snap, adjusting to Smith’s inevitable rookie mistakes and just getting comfortable with the strong-armed kid will take time.
The second aspect involves the locker room. The Jets need someone to lead Rex Ryan’s merry band of misfits. The quarterback is a natural locker-room leader. But nobody can motivate from the bench, or with his wrist tied to an adversary in a Texas death match for his job. Whether it’s Sanchez, whose sagging confidence would get a huge boost from winning the job, or Smith and his youthful enthusiasm, picking a quarterback early will send a message throughout the organization: “This is where we’re headed. Now get on board.”
Considering the nonsense that has afflicted the organization over the past two years — from Holmes’ blowup at the end of 2011 to Woody Johnson’s recent “Truth, justice and the American way” insistence on keeping free-agent running back Mike Goodson around despite a pinch for possession of a loaded .45 caliber handgun, ammo and marijuana –Mornhinweg’s ultimate dream passes for downright genius.
They may have gotten this one right.
All Mornhinweg will have to do is get the choice right.
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