What a difference a year makes, no? It’s hard to know what to make of the news coming out of Jets training camp these days. One minute Mark Sanchez is outplaying rookie Geno Smith. The next, he is throwing a pick. Smith is simultaneously outplaying Sanchez and then taking too many sacks. The only thing we can say for sure is that this is a serious competition; a serious training camp with lots of practice, learning and teaching going on. It’s a far cry from last year’s ridiculous circus. In hindsight, the Jets have no one but themselves to blame for the unprofessional atmosphere that surrounded that team in preseason. They could have controlled Tebowmania, but opted not to.
How do I know?
Take a look at Patriots camp. It seems evident to me that someone in the Patriots brass sat young Tim Tebow down and explained that any media showboating (shirtless runs in the rain for example) will be met with disapproval. Translation: that’s a fast track to getting cut. Seems to be working, much to the dismay of the media, I am sure.
But I digress. Back to the Jets. So what can we discern from the first week of camp? To my eye, not much, other than the media’s clear preference that Smith win the starting job. The fawning over Smith and the eyerolls over Sanchez are obvious.
Look, I will grant that the media and the fans, and probably some of the Jets organization, have Sanchez fatigue. But that doesn’t make Smith the second coming of Russell Wilson or Robert Griffin III—overlooked in those comparisons is that both Wilson and RG3 landed with ball clubs with a lot more talent on the offensive side of the ball than the Jets currently have signed.
The Jets are installing a West Coast type offense and that should theoretically give Sanchez a leg up. He ran a similar offense in college and he has tons of reps from under center and is well versed in the footwork required in order to make the timing work. Smith, on the other hand is coming from West Virginia where he primarily ran a spread offense (not the same as the read option – I see people getting that confused a lot), taking snaps mostly from the shotgun. By Smith’s own admission, playcalls were short and numbers based, a far cry from the wordy verbiage the West Coast employs.
Sanchez as the veteran should have a clear advantage. I’ll give Smith credit though. After a thin skinned draft experience, he has righted the ship and devoted himself to study and practice in an admirable way. He also has what appears to be a very nice arm.
But I maintain that the daily handicapping of the QB race by the media as if the two were running for political office is overblown and doesn’t tell us much. Here’s why: Are perceived flaws and errors the fault of the two QBs or just a natural function of installing a new offense with a lot of new folks? That’s somewhat unclear. Are picks because the QB threw a bad ball, the receiver ran the wrong route, the ball was tipped or something else? Hard to know unless we get interviews from the participants explaining what happened. Same for sacks. Did the offensive line break down (lots of new faces after all) or did the receivers not run the right patterns so the QB didn’t have anything to check down to? Again, without a clear explanation from the participants, we are just guessing.
If I were a player or on the coaching staff, I wouldn’t explain. In response to any questions, I’d just chalk it up to: “Hey, we’re installing a bunch of new stuff and seeing what works.”
Why give your future opponents intel?
All I can say with certainty this year is this: It’s not about Mark. It’s not about Geno. It’s about Marty Mornhinweg.
Here’s what I mean by that: New Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has a long resume. He has done some terrific work with very accomplished quarterbacks and teams. But his resume is marred by his time as Head Coach of the Detroit Lions. In fairness, his front office did him no favors (I’m looking at you Matt Millen). That being said, I am positive (my opinion only) that he wants another shot at Head Coach.
If he can turn this offense around given its anemic talent level and a choice between a rookie or an embattled veteran at quarterback into something that is even vaguely competitive, he will have made a very good case for himself.
What will that look like? Well, at this stage of the game, my guess is that Sanchez will start come Week 1. In a risk averse NFL, that is the low risk move. The fans won’t like it, but barring injury or Smith overnight turning into a pro bowl QB in the preseason that is my prediction.
It’s easier to make the move from Sanchez to Smith if Sanchez struggles, than it is to go the other way round.
I predict camp will continue to be a seesaw with no clear leader emerging. I hope that is because Mornhinweg is testing out all his options in an effort to see who has the skills to run what plays in all offensive skill positions. That would be the smart way to go. Once that is established, come preseason, you can test those assumptions under as close to game speed as you will get before Week 1 when the games actually count.
I’ll be following this closely all year. How Mornhinweg scouts his new charges, implements his system and then adjusts based on game film and real time results will tell us a lot. If he is flexible and adaptable, anything can happen. The expectations for the Jets are so low this year, why not think differently and creatively? At the very least, that will distinguish Mornhinweg from his predecessor Tony Sparano who displayed none of those traits. (With predictable results, I might add.)
I understand coaches have a preferred system. We see that all the time. But I think rigidly sticking to a system when it is clear that you don’t have the pieces in place to run it, is the definition of stupid. Much better to take the elements of your system that work and adapt them to the talent you do have. Put your guys in a position to succeed. You never know who might step up and become a star.
Look, I still don’t think this is a playoff team, but with Rex Ryan back heavily involved in the defensive side of things, hopefully the Jets can be competitive. Or at least, not a walk in the park for their opponents. You never want to be the automatic win on someone else’s schedule.
Whether they have a chance to surprise anyone and win some games is, in my mind, completely up to Mornhinweg and whether he can demonstrate that he has a realistic grasp of his players’ skills and imperfections and whether he can game plan against opponents to maximize the former and minimize the latter.
His future and the Jets season depend upon it.