By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Sports Writer
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Geno Smith was back on the practice field, his sprained ankle feeling better and a limp only occasionally visible.
New York Jets quarterbacks Geno Smith, left, and Mark Sanchez participate in a practice in Florham Park, N.J.
The New York Jets' starting quarterback job is still undecided, and the rookie quarterback was ready to resume his pursuit.
"It felt a lot better," Smith said Monday of his right ankle. "I was able to move a lot more fluidly, wasn't thinking about it as much. The pain has gone down tremendously, so I'm able to do a lot of things I couldn't do last week."
For one, Smith wasn't healthy enough to play in the team's preseason game against Jacksonville last Saturday night. He was cleared for practice last week, but limped through the sessions until the Jets decided it would be smarter to let Smith rest up so he could approach this week without being hindered.
"I think he's much further along right now," coach Rex Ryan said. "He looked like he was driving the football better, so that was good to see. He made some really nice throws down the field today I thought."
Smith worked with the starting offense, while Mark Sanchez was with the backups, and didn't have one of his better days of practice. He was 1 of 6 passing - although Stephen Hill dropped two catchable balls - in 11-on-11 team drills and had an interception.
It was far from the "brutal" practice, as Ryan put it, he had when he threw four interceptions on a bad ankle last week, but he wasn't sharp. At least he was back on the field, though. And if there was a game tomorrow, Smith insisted he could play.
But, would he be the starter?
"We'll see," he said with a big grin.
The Jets' quarterback competition is still wide open as the team prepares for its third preseason game. Ryan was uncertain whether Sanchez or Smith would start Saturday night against the Giants, let alone the regular-season opener against Tampa Bay Sept. 8.
"Again, we'll let this thing work out," Ryan said. "We'll go through the week, and obviously we're just starting the week, so we have a few days of practice, and then we'll make that determination."
Sanchez had an up-and-down performance in three quarters last Saturday night in a 37-13 win over Jacksonville, and failed to remove any doubts that he should be the Week 1 starter.
He led the Jets on five scoring drives in three quarters, but also had a couple of mistakes that were reminiscent of the shortcomings that plagued his first four seasons. He was intercepted in the end zone by Marcus Trufant on a pass to Kellen Winslow Jr., and then just before halftime, held onto the ball too long as he scrambled while the final seconds ticked away and the Jets failed to get any points.
Both plays prompted boos from the MetLife Stadium crowd, which has grown impatient with Sanchez's mistakes. But, Sanchez has arguably had the better overall training camp performance.
"You have to ask the coaches," Sanchez said when asked if he has done enough to keep his job. "I feel good about my performance and the camp I put together. It's definitely the best camp I've had. Just keep improving and keep working."
How much more game action he gets remains to be seen. Normally, teams play their starters three quarters in the third preseason game, but Smith being unavailable against Jacksonville might have changed those plans. The Jets could potentially have Smith play the bulk of the snaps with the starters against the Giants, giving themselves one final long look at the rookie before making a call on who will start the season under center.
"I think we're coming down the stretch here, so I'm sure a decision will be made here soon," Sanchez said. "Other than that, I don't know."
Smith is approaching this week as if he'll start Saturday, and acknowledged that he is "extremely anxious" about being able to get out onto the field again after being a mere bystander in the last game.
"Sitting on the sideline was probably one of the hardest things I had to endure since I've been here," he said. "I never expected being out for a game, let alone second game of the preseason. But to be out there this week is going to be big for me. I get another chance to go out there and prove myself."
That said, Smith doesn't necessarily think that his performance against the Giants - however long he plays - will serve as a singular audition for the job he covets.
"They've been evaluating me since I've been here and I don't think one or two games will be able to tell you exactly where I am because it's still early in my career," he said. "It's about learning and I have a lot of learning to do, so every single rep that I get is going to be vital for my success in the future."
And as far as that "brutal" comment from Ryan last week? No biggie, as far as Smith is concerned.
"Bad days happen and I don't like to go back in the past," he said. "I would like to say that was one of my worst days. But, hey, you've got to move on from it and I have a short memory so I won't let it affect me in any type of way. Just going to learn from it."