By Kristian Dyer
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Don’t buy the party line from Michael Vick that he won’t be the starter this year, He knows that he is very much in the middle of a quarterback competition, and one that he could well win.
No ifs. No ands. No buts. And certainly no butt fumble.
Last week, Vick squashed any talk of a quarterback competition when he said that Geno Smith would be the starter this year. He talked about a role reversal and taking on a mentor’s role. He didn’t make any waves, didn’t stake any claim to the starting job. Instead, he supported Smith, the second-year quarterback who struggled for much of last year and only settled down during the final month of the season.
Why Vick would take himself out of the running for the starting job might have more to do about managing expectations and posturing than any message from Jets management. After all, it clearly would serve Jets management well for Smith to be the starter this year. It’d reinforce New York’s youth movement, and if a second-year quarterback could beat out an established, proven veteran like Vick, it would be a boon to the budding reputation of general manager John Idzik.
What Smith starting on Week 1 would show is Idzik’s eye for talent. It’d give the Jets a young star who they could market. The growing pains from last year would have been well worth it if Smith were to win the starting job this year. He’d be the face of the team on and off the field.
The perception of Smith and Idzik wouldn’t be as high if Vick wins this competition.
There’s no doubt that Vick can win this thing. Last year he beat out Nick Foles for the starting job in Philadelphia, a quarterback who arguably is more talented and more seasoned than Smith at this stage in his career. Vick has played in this offense and thrived before under Marty Mornhinweg, as he’s shown to be a perfect fit for the scheme. He is a Pro-Bowl quarterback, a calm veteran who has been there and done that, and he’s won along the way.
If he can stay healthy — and admittedly that is a big if — he could and should be penciled in as the Week 1 starter. That might not fit the narrative Jets management would want to promote, but it would win games.
Last year, the Jets were 8-8 with a quarterback who was statistically one of the poorest in the league at passing the ball. Smith wasn’t horrible and he wasn’t an embarrassment. But there were too many times where he was a liability and cost his team games. He showed potential — yes, flashes of it — but the Jets finished with eight wins despite the errors and mistakes (and interceptions) of Smith, not because of him. That isn’t to pan Smith or say that he can’t develop. It just might be a steep learning curve for this young quarterback.
With a veteran quarterback, the Jets could have been a playoff team in 2013. They could have had a winning season. That Gatorade bath for head coach Rex Ryan following the Week 17 win in Miami could have been to celebrate an improbable trip to the playoffs, not just a .500 record. A veteran quarterback could have ended a run of playoff misses that dates back to 2010.
Given the offseason additions via free agency and now the draft, there is no reason not to think that with a proven quarterback under center, someone more polished could take this team to the playoffs. That person would be Vick, if he’s given the chance.
Perhaps Vick’s demeanor last week and then again this past Wednesday, when he almost glumly answered questions about the starting job and named Smith the starter, is simply a case of him reading the tea leaves. Maybe he knows and senses already that not only is this Smith’s job to lose, but that management wants its draft pick from last year to be the guy. After sizing things up, it could very well be that Vick understands that this is a competition in name only, and that barring a serious setback in Smith’s perceived development, there is no way he starts this year.
Maybe, or maybe this is much ado about nothing.
Vick could just be the good teammate here, not wanting to rock the boat. He has to know that, deep down, he’s won other quarterback battles before and that, based off of his play last year, he can win the job here in New York. He understands the offense, its coordinator and he is proven as a starter. The same can’t be said for Smith — at least not yet. Someday down the road, perhaps, but right now he is still learning and growing.
The Jets have the kind of roster, young and deep with some talent, that could be a playoff team. If there’s a real competition at quarterback this summer, the kind that goes from minicamp through training camp and the preseason, then the Jets could take a step towards the postseason.
Vick would likely win that job, and the Jets would win some games.
Kristian R. Dyer covers the Jets for Metro New York and contributes to Yahoo!Sports as well as WFAN. He can be followed on Twitter @KristianRDyer.
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