By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
NEW YORK — Mark Sanchez is getting another chance to start for the New York Jets.
In the preseason, that is. As for the regular season, this quarterback competition is still far from being settled.
The Jets announced Thursday that Sanchez will start over rookie Geno Smith, who was hobbled a bit this week with a sprained ankle, for the preseason home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday night.
“The main factors being Geno’s situation, his ankle situation,” coach Rex Ryan said during a conference call. “And also the fact that Mark has practiced well. That’s really what kind of led to our decision.”
The call came a day after Ryan said Smith had a “brutal” practice in what was his “worst day” of training camp as he threw four interceptions, including three in 11-on-11 team drills. And Ryan didn’t back off that blunt assessment Thursday.
“I just said the truth,” Ryan said. “Look, every player has those days. That’s the reality of it. Now, has he had some phenomenal days? Absolutely, he has. But it was just a poor practice. The fact that I said it, I never sugarcoated it. I said the truth.
“If people have a problem with it, I’m telling the truth. It was a poor day. It was a brutal day. Four or five interceptions, I don’t know what else you’d call it.”
Ryan was still uncertain if Smith would play at all Saturday night, and insisted that decision had yet to be made. The team had a light practice that focused on conditioning during its final day at SUNY Cortland, and Smith spent the session mostly on the stationary bike.
“We’ll see how the rest of the week goes to make that decision,” Ryan said.
The rookie insisted Wednesday that his sprained right ankle wasn’t affecting his performance. But Ryan reiterated that it was clear to him that Smith is “not 100 percent.”
Smith, who was cleared by team trainers early in the week, had not missed any time on the field. He worked mostly with the first-team offense Wednesday and appeared to move around with only a slight limp at times.
“I haven’t really been trying to use it as an excuse,” Smith said. “I’ve been going out there and giving it my all, and I think I’ve done a good job of just pushing through this week.”
But some fans and media have suggested that perhaps it was unwise for the Jets to allow Smith, despite being medically cleared, to practice even with a mild sprain.
“I think I certainly understand that line of questioning,” Ryan said. “But you also have to realize that we’re installing and still in the install phase and putting in a brand-new offensive system. Obviously, with any quarterback, especially a young quarterback, we thought he would definitely benefit from getting those reps. Obviously, the trainers were comfortable with him being out there.”
The Jets could rest Smith until the third preseason game next week against the Giants, and potentially start him then. Greg McElroy, also dealing with an ankle injury and uncertain for Saturday, and Matt Simms are the other quarterbacks on the roster.
Ryan would not rule any player out for the game against the Jaguars.
Sanchez started the preseason opener at Detroit last Friday, in large part because he is the incumbent heading into his fifth season. He got off to a terrible start, with an interception returned for a touchdown, but rebounded with a solid performance that was capped by a TD pass to Jeff Cumberland.
Smith had no turnovers in his debut, which was cut short when he rolled the ankle on a scramble in the third quarter. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg also said this week that he didn’t get a good chance to evaluate Smith in the preseason opener because he was tinkering with several different aspects of the offense while the rookie was in.
Sanchez followed up the preseason opener with a good week of practices, while Smith was hobbled and pushed through the injury.
“I think it went about as well as it could,” Sanchez said Wednesday of the competition during camp. “I felt good throughout the duration of camp. I thought I threw the ball well. I was accurate. I did my best to take care of the ball and move the team down the field. I thought we did that really well in spurts. I thought we got a little more consistent as things went on. We just have to keep improving. I felt fine with the rotation.
“Hopefully, soon they’ll make a decision and we’ll roll.”
Even though this is Sanchez’s second straight start in the preseason, Ryan said it’s not necessarily an indication of which quarterback leads in the competition — although it would seem the veteran would have the edge if he plays well.
“I’m not going to get into that because every day is part of the competition,” Ryan said. “Again, this competition is not complete. And, when it is, when we feel that we’ve had enough information, then we’ll make our decision.”