Jets name rookie QB Smith to start opener

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The Geno Smith era starts now.

As expected, the New York Jets will start the rookie quarterback in the season opener Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team announced Wednesday. The last time the Jets started a rookie in Week 1 was 2009, when it was Mark Sanchez, whom Smith is replacing.

The choice became obvious in recent days. The Jets tried to keep it secret, but Sanchez was ruled out for the game with a bruised joint in his throwing shoulder, sources said.

On paper, Sanchez outplayed Smith in the preseason, but it became clear over the past two weeks that the organization wanted to make a change. Smith was handed the job despite missing a game because of a sprained ankle and despite a three-interception debacle in the third game — his only extended outing.

In one sense, the former West Virginia star won the job by default, with Sanchez battling the shoulder injury. In all likelihood, Sanchez would’ve been named the starter if he hadn’t been injured, sources said, but it created an opening for the organization to elevate Smith, albeit a huge risk.

It’s conceivable that Sanchez may never play again for the Jets. There’s no way the Jets will bench Smith if he’s playing well. Sanchez could miss a few weeks because of the shoulder injury, sources said.

Sanchez will be the highest-paid backup in the NFL, earning a guaranteed $8.25 million — part of a 2012 contract extension that prevented the team from unloading him in the offseason. He almost certainly will be jettisoned after the season.

It was an uneven summer for Smith, a second-round pick. He was terrific in the first two weeks of training camp, but he rolled an ankle in the first preseason game and his performance took a dip. Curiously, he didn’t get a chance to rest the ankle, aggravating it to the point that he had to sit out the second game. The following week, with a chance to secure the job, he played poorly in three quarters.

Sanchez completed 64 percent of his passes and had a 90.0 passer rating, but he committed three turnovers — painful reminders of his turnover-prone ways. He led the league with 52 turnovers in 2011 and 2012. Before that, he was considered the face of the franchise, a promising young quarterback who helped the Jets to back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship Game.

Essentially, the crushing blow to his star-crossed career occurred in the third preseason game, when he was inserted in the fourth quarter with the backups — a controversial move by coach Rex Ryan — and drilled outside the pocket by then-New York Giants defensive tackle Marvin Austin.

Jets owner Woody Johnson was asked Tuesday about Ryan’s decision to play Sanchez that night.

“That was a decision that was made. I don’t have any regrets. He’s an experienced guy. I wished he hadn’t gotten hurt, but you’e got to protect yourself too,” he said.

ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley contributed to this report.

This article was originally posted on ESPN.com

About Neil Farris

I have been covering sports since 2002 when I began writing for my college newspaper. Since then I have covered football regionally and currently work in the NFL department at All Sports Talk.