As previously reported here at Jets 101 among other sources, the New York Jets are considering using Geno Smith in a zone-read package to get him on the field if he doesn't win the starting job. The majority of media outlets are bashing the Jets for even contemplating using Smith this way, pointing to his poor college rushing stats as evidence that this is a bad idea.
While that argument has some merit, the inclusion of sack yardage in those statistics as pointed out by Jets 101’s Donald Lappe skews those numbers greatly. Between that realization and Smith’s 4.59 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, you could actually argue that this package might be somewhat effective, especially in comparison to how ineffective the Jets traditional offense projects to be.
While most in the media are pointing to Smith not being a running quarterback as the major reason this idea could blow up in the Jets' face, that’s not the main problem with this strategy. The Jets’ offensive debacle last season was at least partially due to the specter of Tim Tebow on the sideline, ready to take the field at a moment’s notice to run for 3 yards, at most.
The quote, “If you have two quarterbacks, you really have none” was thrown around ad nauseam during the 2012 pre-season after New York acquired Tebow. It proved true for the Jets, who watched Sanchez struggle to find continuity throwing the football after a big Week 1 while Tebow couldn’t find a rhythm at any point during the year as the “change of pace quarterback.”
Taking your starting quarterback off the field is never a good idea. No sane coach would take Tom Brady or Peyton Manning out of the game, but it would actually be a better strategy to use with an established star quarterback who can quickly regain his rhythm and confidence rather than a shaky starter who needs to know the coaching staff trusts him to be out there on every play.
While Smith is a pocket passer with speed, Tebow is the quintessential running quarterback. Former offensive coordinator Tony Sparano couldn’t make the Wildcat work with a runner under center, so do the Jets really expect new playcaller Marty Mornhinweg to take a pocket passer, albeit one with plus athleticism, to perfect a zone-read package he’s never run before?
Besides the poor fit, the last thing the Jets need is more controversy at the quarterback position. Sanchez is already a lame duck barring a miraculous turnaround in his fifth season and Smith is set to take over at some point during the 2013 season, if not at the start. If the Jets are planning to start Sanchez, they need to give him the keys to the offense and commit to him on every down if they expect to have any sustained success.
Geno Smith’s development is also at stake with this strategy. Rather than allowing him the time he needs to absorb the entire playbook and adjust to life in the NFL, the Jets may instead ask him to focus on perfecting a limited package of plays to run a few times per game. This should be portrayed in a similar light to New York’s early protection of Sanchez in his 2009 rookie season.
In 2009, the Jets had a fighting chance to compete and did, reaching the AFC Championship Game by playing hide the quarterback and riding a strong defense and running game deep into the playoffs. This year, it’s hard to argue the team can play at that high of a level and while throwing Smith on the field could result in the occasional big play, the payoff for a likely non-playoff team will pale in comparison to the damage the Jets can do to their new quarterback of the future by making him a package player.
Supporters of this strategy may point to how the 49ers used Colin Kaepernick for a few plays per game before he was the starter in San Francisco, but Kaepernick was one of college football’s top dual-threat quarterbacks at Nevada and much of his success stems from his ability to run the ball. Smith has far more Tony Romo in him than Colin Kaepernick. While Romo can run, he’s not the type of player you would build a zone-read package around, and neither is Smith.
If the Jets want to get the most out of Sanchez or Smith this year and in the future, they will scrap this zone-read idea in training camp. If Smith wins the starting job, however, I’m not opposed to giving him a few designed running plays to see if he can add that to his repertoire. If he doesn’t, let him sit and learn from what Sanchez does (or doesn’t do) on the field.
The Jets never really gave Mark Sanchez a chance last season with the way they utilized Tim Tebow. If he wins the starting job, they should give him a real chance to make something out of his last shot in New York. They should also give Geno Smith a chance to develop into the quarterback they thought Sanchez could be when they moved up to draft him in 2009. Using him solely in a package that plays against his strengths would be doing him and his future a huge disservice.
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