DENNIS WASZAK Jr.,AP Sports Writer
CORTLAND, N.Y. (AP) — Mark Sanchez was hardly surprised when he was told he was starting the New York Jets’ preseason opener at Detroit.
And, not only because he has been here longer than Geno Smith.
“You have to ask the coaches, but I feel like I’m putting together a good camp,” Sanchez said Wednesday. “I think I earned the right to start this first game and we’ll see how it goes from there. But got to keep playing well to stay on the field, and that’s the plan.”
Being under center when the real games start with Week 1 at home against Tampa Bay is also part of the plan.
“I mean, I just don’t think about not playing ever,” he said. “So, that really doesn’t affect the way I approach things, the way I go to practice, (or) the way I play.”
Rex Ryan and Marty Mornhinweg announced Tuesday that Sanchez got the nod over Smith because he’s the incumbent, and Mornhinweg added that Sanchez “earned it.”
Both Sanchez and Smith have had solid camps, although the rookie’s performance has dipped slightly and Smith even said he “wasn’t my normal self.” Smith is not concerned about that, and wasn’t taken aback when quarterbacks coach David Lee announced to the players the decision to start Sanchez for this week.
“I don’t have any reaction toward it,” Smith said. “The competition’s still open and I’ll just continue to work and to grow.”
The Jets are counting on it. Smith has had some terrific days in camp, and others not so great, befitting of a rookie. But he has also provided Sanchez with the first really strong threat to his starting job.
Smith also didn’t bristle when asked if he thought Sanchez had earned the opportunity to start the preseason under center first.
“Of course, of course,” he said. “I fully back Mark. I fully back the coaches’ decisions. Like I said, I’m all about helping this team grow, helping us win. Once they came out with decision that he will start the first preseason game, like I said, I didn’t have any reaction to it.
“The only thing that I’m focusing on is making sure I’m prepared for the plays that I get in the game.”
Both Ryan and Mornhinweg have said Sanchez and Smith will get snaps with the first-team offense Friday night at Detroit, and perhaps the starters will play a bit longer than the usual one or two series, given the circumstances.
That means Smith should see plenty of action against the Lions, and then could have a chance at starting the second preseason game at home against Jacksonville.
“Somebody’s got to take the first snap, and to me, it is going to be a fair and open competition,” Ryan said. “Really, Mark has had a good training camp, and so has Geno. Being the incumbent and things like that, I don’t think anybody was that surprised that Mark would be the first quarterback in the first preseason game.”
Sanchez is coming off two mistake-prone seasons in which he led the NFL with 52 turnovers in that span. He was benched for the first time in his career last year in favor of Greg McElroy, and many speculated that the only reason he remained on the team was because of the $8.25 million he was guaranteed this season.
He was also considered by some as perhaps the biggest reason the Jets went 6-10 last year, resulting in several changes in the front office and the roster. One former teammate, Lions wide receiver Chaz Schilens, appeared to echo that sentiment in comments to the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday.
“Really, when it came down to it,” he told the newspaper, “I kind of felt like they were looking for scapegoats and besides everyone except for, you know, maybe the quarterback position, and it was what it was.”
Sanchez was booed by fans last Saturday when he threw an interception in the team’s scrimmage, and Schilens isn’t sure if the Jets quarterback can win them back.
“Nothing good to say,” he told the newspaper, “so I’m not going to say nothing.”
Sanchez is focused on this season, rather than his past failures or even the consecutive trips to the AFC title game in his first two years. He does, however, get a good feeling about this year’s team and recently told the Los Angeles Times that the Jets could be a playoff team — something he reiterated Wednesday.
“I mean, you have to have that mentality that this team is built to last,” Sanchez said. “That we’re built to make a strong run and get hot at the right time, to sustain some injuries and then move on from it and get guys healthy as soon as possible.
“I mean, its natural, that happens every year. But I feel like we have the talent to make that happen and now it’s about realizing that talent on the field and going out and playing well.”
There’s one thing that Smith can guarantee: He will not be nervous the moment he steps on an NFL field for the first time.
“I never have butterflies,” he said with a smile. “I’ve never been that type of person. I don’t think I get nervous at all.”
NOTES: CB Dee Milliner was limited at practice with tightness in a calf, but Ryan did not seem concerned about the first-round pick’s availability for the game at Detroit. … A vague Ryan spent several minutes fielding questions about RB Joe McKnight, who is sidelined with what the team is calling a “head injury” — but the Jets have not officially classified it as a concussion. The team has, however, acknowledged that McKnight is going through the league’s official concussion protocol. “Joe has a head injury,” Ryan said. “I don’t want to say he has a concussion because that information hasn’t been relayed to me. … I’m not (trying to act like) Bill Belichick with that, saying it’s ‘a body part that something’s wrong with.’ If I don’t know that he’s got a concussion for sure, I don’t want to tell you he’s got a concussion and that’s not the case.” … WR Vidal Hazelton was released with a knee injury, suffered during practice Tuesday. He had been having a solid camp, but Ryan said the injury was “severe.”
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