By Steve Silverman
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It must be hard for Jets head coach Rex Ryan to sleep well at night.
As he prepares for his fifth season as the team’s head coach, Ryan has the same problem on his hands that he had last year: an offense that seems unlikely to play at a winning level.
When the Jets got rid of offensive coordinator Tony Sparano at the end of last season, it was an admission that they were not going to try to play Neanderthal football any longer.
Winning in the NFL requires a team to attack with the pass and make big plays on a regular basis. The old days of running the football, making the occasional big play with the pass and playing solid overall defense have been over for a long time.
The Jets seemed to show some understanding of that fact of life when they hired Marty Mornhinweg to be the new offensive coordinator. Mornhinweg was a failure as an NFL head coach with the Detroit Lions, but he understands the West Coast offense and he can implement it well.
However, master builder though he may be, he may not have the tools to work with. Mark Sanchez and rookie Geno Smith will fight it out for the starting quarterback position, and there may not be much to choose from.
Sanchez’s resume is well-known and he has struggled with accuracy and clutch play. It’s almost a given that he is a caretaker, at best, while Smith learns how to play quarterback at the professional level.
However, Smith has a lot to learn. His performance so far indicates just how far behind he is and how different Mornhinweg’s offense is from the type of attack he ran at West Virginia.
He has many issues, but footwork is the biggest. He is struggling to understand the mechanics, and that leads to overall sloppiness.
Smith is not ready to play right now, and he’ll have to pick it up quite a bit if he is going to be able to contribute this year.
Ryan told Mike Vorkunov of the Newark Star-Ledger that the problems Smith is facing were expected by the coaching staff.
“If we had to play tomorrow I’d agree with that,” Ryan said. “But I think when we get out to training camp and we have that time we’ll see if he’s ready or not ready. We’ll make that decision. Are there things he’s working every day at? Absolutely. He came from a system that this is not a surprise. He came from a system that primarily was in a shotgun system.”
A quarterback has to be comfortable in a system to have a chance to be successful. One of the advantages of the shotgun is how much easier it is for the quarterback. He does not have to concern himself with taking a hard snap from the center. He merely has to catch a much softer toss that he has time to judge as it comes back to him.
He is also in a much better position to see what the defense is doing and which of his receivers have an advantage, if any.
Dropping back is tougher, especially when facing an NFL-style pass rush. Smith can learn the nuances of it, but is likely to take longer than one training camp to do it.
The other problem is the Jets’ motley crew of receivers. Santonio Holmes is the Jets’ best receiver, but it’s questionable as to whether he will be healthy by the start of his season because of his Lisfranc injury.
Stephen Hill should be ready to participate in training camp after a knee injury ruined his 2012 season. Jeremy Kerley and Clyde Gates are probably the Jets’ most competitive receivers after those two, but they are a long way from having a positive impact on the Jets’ offense.
If Mornhinweg is honest with himself and Ryan, he knows that his offense is a long way from being competitive. Training camp may be about six weeks away, but the Jets’ offense already needs a Hail Mary to be competitive this year.
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