By Ernie Palladino
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Marvin Austin said he actually hurt himself on the fourth-quarter hit that leveled Mark Sanchez Saturday night.
What he couldn’t have known about were the ripples it sent toward the Jets’ sideline, which ended up bouncing around in Rex Ryan’s head. Those pains in the defensive tackle’s chest and quarterback’s shoulder turned immediately into some headache for the coach, whose greenish pallor in the coming days will make his team’s colors appear faded in comparison.
What became obvious in Geno Smith’s three-interception evening was that the second-round rookie is in no way, shape or form prepared to step in as starter — a fact that should have dawned on Ryan and GM John Idzik the minute Idzik placed the call to Radio City Music Hall to announce his second-round pick. Starting a rookie quarterback is always a dicey proposition.
They simply don’t have the experience.
Keeping their shaky incumbent Sanchez around simply complicated matters and led to this stupid, misbegotten training camp competition.
The fruits of that have now arrived. Depending on what the doctors tell the Jets about what appeared on the MRI on Sanchez’s throwing shoulder — a source told the New York Post no bones were broken — Ryan may have no choice but to start Smith against Tampa Bay. And won’t Darrelle Revis love to get a piece of that action? Sanchez, described as day to day but definitely out of the final preseason game, could miss significant time.
Or maybe not. As of Sunday evening, nothing concerning Sanchez’s health was a certainty.
That alone would have been enough for Idzik to dance the night away. He has never had much use for Sanchez, anyway. The only reason the kid is still in New Jersey is because the Jets are into him for more than $8 million this year. Smith is his guy, and Idzik is willing to put up with a pile of mistakes as his draft prize develops.
Of course he is. Idzik isn’t the one with the job on the line. Ryan? He’s one step away from a firing squad. There is little doubt he would prefer Sanchez in there, because even for all his faults, the veteran experience gives the Jets the best chance to win.
Smith is going to be a hard sell for the fans who pay top dollar to sit in MetLife Stadium. While there is nothing wrong with committing to a rookie quarterback for a whole season, a certain amount of finesse must accompany that decision. A longtime incumbent cannot be on the scene, for one thing. And it must be made clear that the team is in either rebuilding or page-turning mode.
The Seahawks got rid of Matt Hasselbeck before they put rookie Russell Wilson in competition with free-agent pickup Matt Flynn last year, and lucky for them the move turned out well. Peyton Manning was gone from the Colts when Andrew Luck took over, and RG3 wasn’t exactly challenged by Rex Grossman.
With the exception of the Seahawks, the two other rookies had full commitments from the get-go. And their coaches were in no danger of losing their jobs if the record suffered during their on-the-job training.
That’s not the case with the Jets. Sanchez should have received a full-time, full-scale commitment, at least for the first month of the regular season. The additional, pressure-free time on the sidelines and in the classroom would have helped Smith immensely. Instead, the Jets were looking at a typical rookie quarterback — panicking under pressure, locking onto receivers, regarding his own end zone as pasture where he can mount an endless retreat from a blitzing linebacker.
Now Ryan may have no choice but to start Smith. They will kick the tires on Matt Leinart and John Beck. Neither will scare any defense. Nor would third-stringer Matt Simms, ironically the only Jets quarterback who has moved the offense effectively this preseason.
The situation started as a mess and has turned into a disaster, all because of one hit in the fourth quarter of a game that Sanchez didn’t want to or expect to be apart of.
If there is no competition, their $8.25 million incumbent is in there with the first unit, and he probably walks off the field a series or two into the third quarter without a scratch. But there was one, and that necessitated taking a good, hard look at Smith.
They got it, right along with the view of an entire season swirling down the drain.
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