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Palladino: Geno Smith Must Start If Jets Serious About Read-Option

Rex Ryan Can't Afford To Repeat The Tebow Mistake
Geno Smith answers questions at training camp (credit: Chris Lopresti/WFAN)

Geno Smith answers questions at training camp (credit: Chris Lopresti/WFAN)

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By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

Jets training camp has only just begun at Cortland, but already one can see where Geno Smith might be a better choice at quarterback than Mark Sanchez.

The hint came when the second-round draft choice ran a read-option play perfectly for a touchdown toward the end of Saturday’s practice. So maybe that doesn’t provide conclusive evidence of Smith’s readiness to assume the wheel of Rex Ryan’s floundering ship. There’s always the issue of throwing the ball, to which neither player has provided separation. But put a few of the surrounding circumstances together, and one can see a definite fit.

Smith showed legs, where just a few days before, wide receiver Santonio Holmes showed none at all. In fact, all his offseason talk about that Lisfranc foot injury being ready to go by opening day went out the window. Now, he’s being evasive as to whether he’ll play at all in 2013.

As maddening as Holmes can be, he’s still the best receiver on the roster. But if the Jets don’t have him, the next best thing might be the combination of Smith’s arm and legs. If he can throw just enough to make defenses respect the pass, his read-option style of running could become all the more effective.

Keep in mind, he wasn’t a read-option quarterback at West Virginia. He was primarily a pocket passer there, though with the recognized ability to tuck it in and run for first downs. The read-option, run to great success by Seattle’s Russell Wilson, Washington’s Robert Griffin III, and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick last season, is a different animal. Smith will have to conquer a learning curve. But at least he possesses the prerequisite mobility to operate it, something Sanchez most definitely does not.

If there is a troubling part of this scenario, it is that Ryan is already talking about installing a “read-option package” for Smith. If that doesn’t sound familiar, let us remember our ancient history, way back there in 2012. He had a Wildcat package for Tim Tebow last year, and all that did was add confusion to the equation. Sanchez’ already shaky confidence took a death blow when Tebow came on the field.

It didn’t work, plain and simple.

The read-option is not the Wildcat. Nor should it be used as a substitute package. Do that, and Ryan will simply be repeating the Tebow mistake. That will result in a quick, straight walk to the exit for both he and Sanchez.

No, the read-option is a starter’s offense, its plays set to the rhythm and circumstances of the game. If Ryan is serious about making that set of plays an instrumental part of the Jets’ offense this year, then he and GM John Idzik must be serious about anointing Smith starting quarterback.

They’ll have to decide if Smith throwing to Jeremy Kerley and Clyde Gates is enough to strike enough fear in defenses to draw those linebackers away from scrimmage and get the defensive end to over-commit, creating spaces as Smith probes down the line. As Ryan said the other day, the read-option, the Wildcat, and other packages like it, are all mathematics. The object is to try to get the quarterback involved against the defense, turning a 10-on-11 defensive advantage to 11-on-11 even-Steven matchup.

But that can’t happen on a sub-package basis. Not with this type of offense.

If the read-option becomes a real part of the Jets’ offense this year, Smith will have to start. And right now, his legs are the only things that separate him from Sanchez.

Considering the Jets’ situation, that may be enough.

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