EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Barring a miraculous recovery by Mark Sanchez, the New York Jets will begin finding out immediately if general manager John Idzik is any better at drafting big-name rookies than he was at signing well-known veterans.
Geno Smith, whom the Jets selected in the second round of the April draft, is expected to start the Jets' regular season opener against the Buccaneers on Sept. 8.
Smith didn't exactly take NFL defenses by storm during an injury-shortened preseason in which he went 22 of 37 passing for 246 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions over the equivalent of one game.
But the decision Idzik seemed to want to make all along -- benching Sanchez and moving forward with Smith -- was likely made for him when Sanchez suffered a shoulder injury while playing behind a third-string offensive line in the fourth quarter of the Jets' third preseason game Aug. 24.
Smith said after the Jets won their exhibition finale over the Eagles last Thursday that he was preparing as if he'd start against Tampa Bay.
"That's something that I always do, and whether or not I am or am not (starting), I will always approach it the same way," said Smith, who didn't play in the preseason finale. "So I'm going to continue to study hard. I've already watched a ton of film on the Buccaneers so far, so I'm just going to work extremely hard and prepare my mind and body for this upcoming game."
Head coach Rex Ryan insisted, almost comically so, on Friday that the much-maligned quarterback competition is still going on. But with Sanchez unable to throw over the Labor Day weekend, Smith appears to be the choice, albeit as much by default and draft status as merit.
Smith's preseason debut on Aug. 9 was a quiet one (6 of 7 for 47 yards and one first down) until he suffered a right ankle sprain while scrambling against the Lions. He tried practicing through the injury -- and played so poorly on the day the Jets broke camp in Cortland that Ryan dubbed his performance "brutal" -- before he sat out the second preseason game against the Jaguars on Aug. 17.
Smith started the annual MetLife Bowl against the Giants on Aug. 24 and looked like a raw and overwhelmed second-round pick in going 16 of 130 for 199 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. He also accidentally ran out of the end zone for a safety.
But he probably won the starting job when Sanchez got hurt shortly after inexplicably entering the game in the fourth quarter. Ryan has certainly seemed to be greasing the skids for the inevitable coronation of Smith by emphasizing the positives in his preseason performance over the previous week.
"I think when you look at it, he started out like gangbusters and then obviously had the ankle injury, so that set him back," Ryan said. "Got the game in against the Giants. Obviously, it was a very up and down performance, He's had a good week of practice and we'll see where he is from there and we'll see where our team is as we get closer to kicking this thing off for real against Tampa."
The Jets better hope Idzik's hand-picked players perform better in the real games than they did during the offseason. Idzik won some praise for a thrifty, low-key approach to free agency, but four of his biggest acquisitions won't be at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
Quarterback David Garrard, who was signed with the hope that he could beat out Sanchez and serve as a bridge to Smith, retired in May due to chronic knee issues. Linemen Antonio Garay and Stephen Peterman, each of whom signed one-year deals, were both cut in late August.
Idzik signed running back Mike Goodson to a three-year, $6.9 million deal -- easily the biggest contract he awarded last spring -- but Goodson, whose questionable character was an open secret in NFL circles, was arrested on a litany of drug and weapons charges in April and didn't report to the Jets this summer until Aug. 26, the same day the NFL announced he'd been suspended for four games without pay.
Goodson will be on the Jets' active/non-football injury/illness list until Sept. 30. By then, Smith will likely have a month's worth of starts under his belt -- and the world will know if Idzik has more success evaluating prospects than he does veteran free agents.