If you get through the clutter, if you move past the noise, if you don't get caught up in the familiar state of confusion and controversy, something wonderful and logical happened at New York Jets training camp on Thursday.
This is kind of a big deal. This needs to happen. There should be no quarterback battle in New York. The 2014 Jets should be all about developing and maximizing their second-year quarterback, putting him in the best position to succeed.
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Since Gang Green signed Michael Vick to a one-year, $5 million deal in March, there have been moments of mayhem. Was Vick signed to start? Play backup? Scare Geno? Compete for the job? And the waters continually get muddied whenever Jets coaches -- or the quarterbacks themselves -- talk to the media about this situation.
Here's what I believe: Geno's the guy, but Vick's presence means the youngster cannot get comfortable.
At this stage of his career, Vick is a backup quarterback. And actually, in many ways, if you remove his high-profile name, Vick is the perfect backup for these Jets. First of all, he knows offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's system well from their time together in Philadelphia, so he'd be comfortable if suddenly pressed into action. Secondly, when you have a young starter, your backup ideally serves a mentorship role. Vick certainly has that in him -- just look at the way he got along with Nick Foles last season, even after the youngster took his job. Vick was a great teammate in Philly, as his Eagles cohorts constantly pointed out.
Yes, Vick's competitive fire still burns bright, but there's no QB controversy here. Or at least there shouldn't be.
Smith's rookie campaign was indeed a roller-coaster ride. But it's easy to forget how normal it is to see neophytes struggle at the quarterback position. (The fact that Smith's debut season directly followed an extraordinary year for rookie QBs -- with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson making it look easy -- certainly didn't help matters.) Typically, you get drafted and your head is swimming learning a new playbook. The game is faster. It's a different world. We should credit the adroit rookie QBs more than we bury those who struggle.
No, Smith didn't perform spectacularly last season, but it wasn't all on him. The Jets' playmakers were non-existent. The team's running backs, receivers and tight ends were, comparatively speaking, bottom of the barrel.
This offseason, general manager John Idzik did a really nice job improving the talent around Geno. Eric Decker isn't a true No. 1 receiver, but he's a major upgrade and the Jets didn't overpay. In April, I wrote that "CJ2K" is defunct, but Chris Johnson is still a very good runner in the NFL. Like Decker, Johnson's worlds better than what the Jets rolled out at his position last season. And don't overlook the Breno Giacomini signing; the offensive tackle, who just won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks, provides a healthy boost to New York's offensive line.
Owning first-team reps is invaluable to Geno. It allows him to develop chemistry and develop as a leader. At this point, it would take an upset bigger than the Jets winning Super Bowl III for Smith not to be the guy. Unfortunately, Rex Ryan refuses to name a starter -- or even establish a timetable for a decision to be made. Good thing I am here to help.
Personally, I would've named Geno the starter in the spring time, but this is Rex Ryan we're talking about. After the failed 2012 season, I wrote a column on why the Jets needed a new coach, largely referencing Ryan's inability to manage the quarterback position. Heck, Rex threw Mark Sanchez to the wolves last summer, putting him in behind a makeshift line in preseason garbage time, and consequently leaving the Jets without a veteran backup last year.
Free advice, Rex: Name Geno the starter for good before the third preseason game. Like I mentioned above, the Jets clearly don't want their young signal-caller to rest on his laurels. That said, it doesn't help if he's looking over his shoulder with every errant pass. Let him breathe a little.
And so it is the coach's job to place his young quarterback in the best position to succeed. Putting this objective into practice at practice is a nice start.