August 21, 2013

Jets Best Off With Sanchez . . . For Now

Jets fans are desperate. They are desperate to win, desperate to not be a laughing stock, desperate for their head coach to stay relatively quiet, and desperate to figure out their quarterback position.

Very early in camp, Geno Smith blew away coaches and reporters with his big arm and smooth touch. For the most part these characteristics were refreshing because they represented everything Mark Sanchez is not. Despite the excitement surrounding Smith, the best thing for the future of the franchise would be to begin the season with Mark Sanchez as the starting quarterback.

Despite all of Smith's physical gifts and what appears to be a sharp mind for the game, he's raw. He has reportedly picked the offense up fairly quickly. But asking him to shoulder the load for what is bluntly, a bad football team, isn't fair to Smith or Jets fans.

The Jets didn't draft Smith to be a quick fix. He was drafted to be the future of the franchise. And with the offense as limited as it appears to be, throwing him into the fire during Week 1 can only hurt his confidence and potentially make him another whipping boy for a beleaguered fan base. This season needs to be about protecting Smith, their only obvious long-term asset at any offensive skill position.

Meantime, on the first series of their first preseason game against the Lions, Mark Sanchez threw a brutal interception which was returned for a touchdown. Sanchez rebounded by completing 10 of 13 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. Smith was clearly hesitant in the preseason opener, completing six of seven for 47 yards before limping off the field in the third quarter. That's okay for a rookie learning a new system, but not impressive enough to make anyone think he's ready to succeed in the NFL. Smith's ankle tweak will hopefully put an end to the notion that he should start the season at QB. While Sanchez may not have inspired confidence from Jets fans, at least for one preseason game he performed better than his rival.

The second preseason game against the Jaguars didn't feature Smith, who was resting his ankle sprain. Yet, Sanchez did little to grab a strangle hold on the job. Despite throwing a nice 23-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Cumberland, he also tossed a red zone interception, and then held on to the ball too long on third down as the first half ended, keeping the Jets from a chance at a field goal.

It's become clear that many fans don't want to see Sanchez under center at any point in the regular season. After 52 turnovers, including 36 interceptions the past two seasons, that's more than understandable. But accepting another year of Sanchez "butt fumbles" is a better option than forcing Smith to try to make chicken out of chicken "bleep."

If Smith were to get the job and struggle mightily, nothing would be more harmful to his future in New York than being sent to the bench in favor of Sanchez. It would create more media scrutiny and a circus-like atmosphere that the Jets have done a decent job of tempering so far this season.

There are some similarities between now and four years ago, when Sanchez was awarded the starting job despite being outplayed in the preseason by incumbent Kellen Clemens. However, that Jets team was ready to turn over a new leaf with head coach Rex Ryan. Soon enough Sanchez appeared to be the quarterback of the future by taking the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship games.

Some fans point to that scenario four years ago as a reason to hand Smith the job today. But the team built around Sanchez in 2009 had talent. This team doesn't. While I understand wanting to turn the page from Sanchez, doing so at the start of the season risks continued uncertainty at the most important position on the team.

Pete is a lifelong Montauk resident and former sports talk host at 88.7FM WEER. He's currently a Sports Anchor at WCBS 880 and WFAN radio in NYC. He can be reached via email at peterfmundo@gmail.com.

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