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Jets eager to evaluate QB Smith with healthy receivers

The SportsXchange

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets (5-7) have slipped to the fringe of the AFC playoff picture, but coach Rex Ryan is hopeful that having a healthy receiving corps for one of the few times all season will help the team evaluate embattled rookie quarterback Geno Smith over the final four games.

Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley returned to practice this week and was listed as probable Friday, making it likely he will return to the lineup for the first time since suffering a dislocated left elbow against the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 3. Despite missing four games this season, Kerley continues to lead the Jets with 28 catches for 347 yards.

"I think Jeremy is a tremendous player and I think he is underrated as maybe in the public's (view). But he's a difference maker for us. He's a guy that can get separation against man coverage. He's got great hands. (He's) precise with his route running. He's elusive. Even like last year when he averaged like almost 15 yards a catch as a slot receiver. That doesn't happen very often so it shows you he's got that kind of ability and certainly he's a difference maker for us."

How many snaps Kerley and wide receiver Santonio Holmes (hamstring) will play remains to be determined, but the important part for Ryan is both will be in the lineup at the same time against the Oakland Raiders.

"We don't want to play (Holmes) 60 snaps when all of a sudden now we're worried about it," Ryan said. "So we've got to be smart and we will be. But again, it's not like it's going to be last week where he played three plays. He's going to play."

Six of the Jets' losses have been by at least 13 points. Only one other team, the 4-9 Jacksonville Jaguars, have more such losses (seven).

Ryan benched Smith at halftime of the 23-3 loss to the Dolphins last Sunday, but Smith will start against the Raiders at MetLife Stadium this Sunday after backup Matt Simms didn't fare much better in the final two quarters against Miami.

"We don't make excuses or anything else, but obviously having your top guys out there healthy, I think makes a huge difference," Ryan said. "We had those conversations and to me it's like, judge us moving forward. And look, you're going to judge us anyways up until this point and you should and I understand it. But, let's see how we close this thing out when our guys are healthy."

The Jets lack reliable deep speed, but Smith has been struggling most with his decision making in going through his progressions. Having a possession receiver like Kerley who can gain quick separation could be a big asset.

"I'm not saying he's Wes Welker, but (he is) similar like a slot receiver who can shake you, burst and get open just like that," Ryan said. "He has some of that ability."

SERIES HISTORY: 39th regular-season meeting, Raiders lead series, 21-15-2. The two teams have split four playoff meetings. The Jets have faced only one other team, the Colts, as often as they've faced the Raiders in the postseason. The Raiders won the most recent game between the teams on Sept. 25, 2011, when Darren McFadden ran for 171 yards and two touchdowns to lead host Oakland to a 34-24 win. Mark Sanchez was 27-of-44 for 369 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for the Jets. This will be the first time the Jets host Oakland since moving into MetLife Stadium in 2010.
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