By Joe Giglio
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When Mark Sanchez takes the first offensive snap on Saturday night at MetLife Stadium, his chances at securing the starting quarterback job for the season’s opening kickoff will be buoyed. His performance — barring another pick-six — should go a long way toward cementing his status as the Week 1 starter against Tampa Bay.
Geno Smith, the rookie second-round pick who is gunning for Sanchez’s job, fell behind in the quarterback battle due to an ankle injury and a practice described by head coach Rex Ryan as “brutal” during a session with the media.
The many storylines around the Jets — fielding a team without Darrelle Revis, incorporating seven new starters on defense, working in new offensive and defensive coordinators, finding healthy bodies at running back and Santonio Holmes’ rehab schedule — have fallen by the wayside as the quarterback battle has gained steam. But one narrative should not be ignored: Ryan vs. John Idzik.
From the moment that Woody Johnson chose to keep Ryan while conducting a search for a new general manager, the hierarchy in Florham Park has been, well, awkward. As of right now, Idzik is the only member of the duo to have long-term contract security. It will be the new GM’s vision as to where the roster shaping goes over the course of final cuts, in-season pick-ups, and, of course, the NFL Draft.
In April, when the Jets selected two defensive players, Dee Milliner and Sheldon Richardson, in the first round, it was wrongly assumed by some that Ryan was pulling the draft strings. When Smith’s name was called early in the second round, Idzik’s long-term vision was secured.
By creating a quarterback battle, the new general manager made it clear that the franchise wasn’t putting a mandate on winning big in 2013. It’s about the future for the Jets. Unfortunately for the head coach, the present is all that is guaranteed in his contract.
From Idzik’s quote early in camp about the quarterback-battle decision being a “collective effort” to Ryan’s astonishing admission of offensive negligence last Friday night in Detroit to the “brutal” comment pertaining to Smith this week, the media tactics used by the franchise’s lead decision-makers feel more like subtle infighting than a well-oiled machine.
If Sanchez starts in Week 1, the initial battle will be won by Ryan. At this point, the production — yes, including the pick-six in Detroit to daily camp reports in Cortland — gives an edge to the incumbent. As a veteran, including familiarity with many of the wide receivers on the roster, Sanchez looks more likely to keep the Jets in games early in the season. Few are doubting the long-term upside of Smith, especially when it pertains to a strong throwing arm, but the rookie can’t be handed a job he’s not ready for at this point.
While it may seem that every roster battle or game-day decision won by Ryan would be a boon to his clout within the organization, don’t jump to conclusions. The best way for Ryan to keep him job — yes, even more so than winning football games — will be to collaborate and see the game through Idzik’s eyes.
During the offseason, despite winning 10 games and just narrowly missing the NFC playoff field, Lovie Smith was fired by the Chicago Bears’ first-year general manager, Phil Emery. The marriage between coaches and general managers, especially those who didn’t pick each other in their respective hiring processes, is fickle.
Smith vs. Sanchez is the battle, but Idzik vs. Ryan is the war.
If the head coach is going to last much longer in New York, the process of joining forces with Idzik, from the quarterback battle to the 53rd man on the roster, needs to begin now.
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