New York Jets quarterbacks Geno Smith (7) and Mark Sanchez (6) practice in Florham Park, N.J., Monday, Aug. 19, 2013.
The big question for the New York Jets heading into training camp was simple.
Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith?
With the regular season closing in, the Jets are still looking for the answer.
Sanchez is dealing with a banged-up right shoulder that could keep him sidelined a few weeks. Smith, meanwhile, showed he might not be ready to start immediately as a rookie after a dismal, turnover-filled preseason performance against the Giants.
"We said from Day 1 that there was no timetable on us announcing a starting quarterback," coach Rex Ryan said.
But the fact the Jets have gone several weeks into a competition that has produced no clarity doesn't bode well for a team that could be hard-pressed to match its six-win total from a year ago. It could also be taking so long because Ryan knows the decision could directly affect his future with the team. Pick the wrong quarterback and the season could get ugly in a hurry.
Especially with the regular-season opener against Tampa Bay on Sept. 8 coming up quickly.
"It's a competition and the best man for the team will get the job," Smith said. "It hasn't been decided yet, so we're still in the evaluation process."
With that said, here are five things to look for as the Jets prepare for the start of the season:
TWO QBS OR NO QB?: There appeared to be a breakthrough in the quarterback competition last Saturday night when Smith, getting his first NFL start, struggled against the Giants' starting defense. The second-round pick had been running just about even with Sanchez until that point. So, most would have assumed Sanchez was in position for his fifth straight opening-week start. Well, not so fast. Ryan decided to play Sanchez in garbage time against the Giants, and Sanchez injured his shoulder — casting doubt on whether he'll even be ready to play in the opener. That means the Jets could be looking at a raw, inexperienced rookie under center against Tampa Bay. "They're going to make the decision when they feel the time's right," Smith said. "So, it's my job to keep competing and keep going out there and work hard in practice."
VEXED REX: When owner Woody Johnson announced in January that he was retaining Ryan as coach after firing GM Mike Tannenbaum, some wondered why the Jets wouldn't just start from scratch in all areas. Johnson insisted Ryan was the right person to lead the franchise, and Ryan said he was treating his second chance as if it were his first day on the job. It has been a different Ryan — thinner, quieter, less entertaining — than the Ryan who came to the franchise in 2009. New GM John Idzik has also installed a new more buttoned-up approach that has many wondering if he and Ryan will be able to mesh. From the quarterback decision to day-to-day matters, it will all factor in if Ryan remains beyond this year or if Idzik goes in another direction. "With John and I, we're side by side and on every decision that goes into it," Ryan said. "Who plays, who's making the team, all those types of things, we're side by side with each other."
DEE-LITE: It seemed inconceivable not long ago that the Jets would ever part ways with Darrelle Revis, a shutdown cornerback who was the team's best player since Curtis Martin. But, sensing a contract would never get done that satisfied both sides, Idzik traded Revis to Tampa Bay a few days before the draft. Then, with their first pick — No. 9 overall — the Jets selected Alabama star cornerback Dee Milliner. While Antonio Cromartie is charged with replacing Revis as the team's No. 1 cornerback, Milliner is being counted on to start immediately and help offset the loss of Revis, as long as he's healthy. He was sidelined in the offseason while recovering from shoulder surgery and missed time in the preseason with a sore calf.
PLAYMAKERS: No matter who the quarterback is, Marty Mornhinweg's offense lacks game-changing players that opposing defensive coordinators will lose sleep over. Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley is a nice player with sure hands and a solid slot presence, but the receiving corps is relatively thin — especially if Stephen Hill isn't over his problems with drops and Santonio Holmes isn't fully healed from a foot injury that sidelined him since Week 4 of last season. The Jets are hoping the speedy and powerful Chris Ivory emerges as a legitimate No. 1 back after being buried on the depth chart in New Orleans. Jeff Cumberland has been called "a complete tight end" by Ryan and could be a red-zone threat, but is still inexperienced.
DOMINANT DEFENSE?: Ryan proclaimed that the Jets will have a top-5 caliber defense, and he might be right because of a nice mix of youth, speed and athleticism. That's even with seven projected new starters. It also is expected to be the overwhelming strength of the team. And, it better be, just to keep the Jets in ballgames. Defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson is a rising star and Sheldon Richardson a promising rookie, but losing linebacker Quinton Coples to an ankle injury for an undetermined amount of time is a big blow. Linebacker David Harris needs a bounce-back year, and second-year linebacker Demario Davis must provide the playmaking ability Bart Scott once did. "I am out of the prediction business," Ryan said, "but I know where I believe everything is going to end up."