Breaking Down the QB Battle Through Day Four
After the first four days of training camp the Jets have today off, which gives us the perfect chance to check in on how the quarterback battle is unfolding. There’s enough attention being devoted to the quarterback competition that there’s no need to write about it daily, but we will continue to find logical check-points to give updates on how the battle is progressing until a starter is eventually named.
After mini-camp it appeared Mark Sanchez would be the favorite to win the starting job, but clearly Geno Smith put in a lot of work during the five week vacation as he has looked much more comfortable running the offense since they got to Cortland. We here at JetsInsider don’t get into charting passes as there’s so many variables to consider we feel training camp stats can be incredibly misleading, what we try to do is judge the quarterbacks by the type of day they had (in individual passing drills, position drills, 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s) and add the days up to see who has been better overall.
A Twitter follower asked me who won round one of practice, like it was a scorecard from a boxing match, and I enjoyed the idea so much that I ran with it for the next three days as well. I gave the first day to Smith, scored it 10-8, the second day was a 10-10 draw, the third day another 10-10 draw and the fourth to Smith 10-8, giving Smith an unofficial 40-36 lead on my scorecard.
In case you’re unfamiliar with boxing scores, it’s a 10 point system. 10-10 is a draw with neither fighter being knocked down, 10-9 means one boxer out boxed the other but no one got knocked down and 10-8 means a boxer clearly won the round and scored a knockdown.
On the first day Smith looked great, not perfect, but really freaking good. Sanchez on the other hand had his ups-and-downs and it’s the downs that made it a 10-8 score. I’d estimate that Sanchez looks to have improved some about 75 percent of the time, but it’s that other 25 percent that’s still the problem. Overall Sanchez had a solid first day, but he had too many floaters get held up in the air only to drop well short of his target to not consider a knockdown, especially after an eerily familiar play in which he actually got knocked down.
On one play Sanchez got in his drop and began shuffling around the pocket and right as guard Willie Colon was extending his arms to block a defender Sanchez backed right into Colon’s forearm causing him to be sacked, but hey at least he didn’t fumble the ball.
Smith, on the other hand, throws such a pretty ball, every single pass is a beautiful clean, tight spiral, they aren’t always perfectly accurate, but they are never wildly inaccurate either. On the first day Smith missed Braylon Edwards on a crossing route by a foot or two (his timing was just a tad slow), but he followed it up with a gorgeous 35-40 yard pass down the sideline to Stephen Hill. Smith isn’t at the point where he wows you on every throw, but he’s always just a few throws away.
Smith throws a prettier, more accurate ball and he has a stronger arm. Sanchez has good arm-strength, but it gets less accurate when he lets it rip. Smith has the ability to power his passes through traffic and zip the ball exactly where it needs to go, like he did when he hit Kellen Winslow on a short in-route rifling the ball between two defenders and right into Winslow’s frame.
On the second day Sanchez was more consistent, he only had one bad play, another floater to Hill that was picked off by Antonio Allen. Smith’s best passes were better than any of Sanchez’s, but Smith was all over the place throughout the day. His timing was off on more than a few throws and while he didn’t throw an interception he did hold on to the ball too long and took a couple of sacks he shouldn’t have. In other words, Smith landed a few haymakers, but didn’t drop Sanchez while Sanchez made one big mistake he was able to survive the round by executing his jab and keeping Smith away.
Day three was similar to day two, but Sanchez was much more effective and didn’t make many mistakes while Smith made a handful of mistakes. Sanchez held on to the ball too long on one play, getting sacked by Garrett McIntyre. Smith held on the ball too long a couple times, over threw his target on a few easy swing passes and hesitated just enough to miss his target other times, but when he got it right it was damn near perfect. A couple perfect deep balls down the sidelines and one great job of feeling pressure in the pocket, stepping up to avoid said pressure and delivering a 20-yard strike to Hill. Sanchez looked better for all but about five plays on day three, but those five plays were so good Smith was able to salvage a draw on my scorecard.
Day four went to Smith, 10-8, as he continued to make progress and show off his arm strength and accuracy. Smith was the more constant quarterback on the day and had the best plays of the day, including a couple of deep passes and a few instances of poise and ability to make the right decisions while Sanchez threw one of his famous inexplicable interceptions (threw it right into Josh Mauga’s chest) and even more worrisome constantly short-armed throws like he was skipping rocks, not playing quarterback. Sanchez left himself open and walked right into those Smith haymakers causing a knockdown.
Through the first four days of camp I have Smith with a 40-36 lead and that’s not even factoring in Smith’s running ability (they’ve run wildcat plays with both quarterbacks and worked on some read-option with Smith), but of course none of this matters if Smith doesn’t perform well in the preseason games.
Smith should feel good about these past four days of practice, but performing in real-live game situations is going to tell us how ready the rookie is much more than training camp practices. Of course the same can be said for Sanchez, Sanchez could look like Aaron Rodgers in training camp practices, that’d be great for him, the Jets and fans, but if he can’t avoid making multiple silly mistakes/turnovers during the game the Jets will have no choice to but ride with Smith.
As a rookie, coaches, players and fans will all be more patient dealing with a silly mistake here or there, but five years into a quarterback’s career those mistakes need to stop or the coaching staff has to stop playing that quarterback.
The great part about the boxing scorecard analogy is judges in boxing matches often value different things and will score similar rounds differently than other judges and it’s the same thing here. I recognize there are other beat writers who would still say Sanchez has looked better, I disagree wholeheartedly but I realize they feel this way, it’s subjective and depends on what you’re looking for in a quarterback.
When watching boxing matches or UFC fights some judges look for defense and takedowns, I don’t care about that as much, I look for damage inflicted and aggressiveness. I won’t penalize a fighter as much for small mistakes if they are being aggressive and I won’t reward a fighter for takedowns or defense if they didn’t inflict any damage on their opponent. Smith inflicted more damage to the defense and was more aggressive in doing so, Sanchez played like a defensive fighter utilizing his jab nicely at times but rarely hurting the defense.
No matter how I look at it, I see Smith having a better camp so far. Now he has to continue this upward trajectory and prove he’s the better quarterback during preseason games.
While I recognize other’s are still arguing for Sanchez, I respectfully disagree with their premise. I do feel like Smith doesn’t just have to be better than Sanchez, he has to convince the Jets he is mentally capable of running the offense in games and one could even argue that in many games throughout his career Sanchez hasn’t looked like he was ready for the job. But the Jets don’t want to play Smith before he is ready, if they have to throw Sanchez out there the first few weeks until Smith is ready, fine, so be it, but you’re going to have a hard time convincing me Smith isn’t the more talented quarterback.
The knocks on Smith are, footwork, hesitation (hitches in his throwing motion), reading defenses/adjusting to NFL speed and ball placement/leading receivers. All of those are perfectly valid questions about his game as a rookie, but where I get confused is how any of those flaws gives Sanchez an advantage considering he possess all of the same flaws?
Yes, in practice Sanchez’s footwork is pretty much perfect most of the time, but go ahead and put on the tape from last year and try and tell me Sanchez doesn’t have issues with his footwork in games. Sanchez absolutely has hesitations issues, triple pump fakes for a sack anyone? As well as issues with reading defenses, ball placement and of course turning the ball over, something Smith was very good at avoiding in college.
Then there’s this report from the NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger who reported that Smith’s conditioning is, “embarrassing,” as the rookie appeared to be in poor shape as he struggled running wind sprints after practice. The beat writers didn’t watch the quarterbacks run the gassers, we were interviewing players, so I can’t dispute what Baldinger saw but I do think this is a much smaller deal than some are making it out to be. In fact I’d actually be shocked if Smith was beating Sanchez in wind sprints after practice and I’m not sure why anyone would think Sanchez wouldn’t win.
Sanchez is in peak physical shape, this doesn’t mean he’s a great quarterback, but his conditioning is undeniably good and as a player enjoying the strength, conditioning and nutritional benefits to being an NFL quarterback he should have a clear advantage over a rookie in this area. Just because Smith can sprint faster than Sanchez doesn’t mean he can do so after a three hour practice.
While I can’t comment on what exactly Baldinger saw, I can say we talked to Smith immediately after he ran those same gassers and he certainly didn’t seem to be hurting and no other beat writers have seen anything to suggest Smith isn’t in good shape. But it is important to look at the rest of what Baldinger said about Smith, because that’s what’s really important and where the compliments were.
“However, he did look good getting in and out of the huddle, getting to the line of scrimmage, getting the ball out of his hands quickly.” Baldinger said and Heath Evans of all people also had good things to say about Smith and not so much Sanchez.
“You see a lot of accuracy, a lot of zip on the ball obviously from Geno.” Evans said, “You see some balls sailing, or what I would say floating, for Mark Sanchez.”
I’m not guaranteeing, or even predicting, that Smith will start week one, but if I was required to choose the better option today I would say it’s Smith. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’d give Smith the nod, but I’d also wait until I saw it in some preseason games before I made an official decision.
Quite simply it comes down to, from what I’ve seen so far, Smith’s best is better than Sanchez’s best and Sanchez’s worst is worse than Smith’s worst and even when Sanchez looks good it’s nothing spectacular, but when Smith looks good it’s really quite impressive. Now we have to wait and see if this was a four day blip on the radar or if Smith will continue improving and snatch the starting job before the season starts.
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