Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez says he is helping rookie Geno Smith learn the offense.
Rich Schultz/AP

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Mark Sanchez refuses to picture a scenario in which he opens this season on the New York Jets' bench.

The maligned quarterback is in for what's expected to be a tight competition with rookie Geno Smith. He's confident, though, and insists he's up to the challenge.

"I'm planning on playing," Sanchez said Thursday. "I'm planning on starting."

Sanchez, entering his fifth season, knows there's a long way to go before coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg make the decision on who's under center in Week 1 when the Jets open against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Smith, the hard-throwing former West Virginia star who was the Jets' second-round pick, has been trying to say all the right things since coming to New York. Even that he'd be OK if he's the one starting the season with a cap and a clipboard.

"The coaches are going to choose who they feel is best for the team," Smith said. "It's not my job to really worry about that. Like I said, I just go out there and work hard. Whatever it takes to help my team win is what I'm going to do. I'm going to give it my best shot and see what happens from there.

Ryan and everyone else in the organization will tell anyone who'll listen that, without question, the quarterback spot - as with most other positions on this team - is up for grabs. It has been repeatedly called an "open competition," one in which Sanchez believes he'll have every opportunity to keep his job.

Not only that, but Sanchez is willing to work with Smith to help acclimate him to the NFL, rooting him on to succeed while also trying to re-establish himself as the franchise quarterback the Jets thought he would be when they traded up to draft him in 2009.

"If I was insecure about something or couldn't handle either this market or this pressure or, `Man, I can't handle this competition,' maybe I wouldn't say much to him," Sanchez said. "Maybe I'd be a little scared to give him help. But I don't feel like that. I just don't, it's not my personality.

"I'm confident, I'm ready to go. I can do it. I know I can."

While some fans and media aren't so sure, Ryan has seen a marked improvement in the quarterback.

"I feel his confidence," Ryan said. "I don't know how much left him, but I think, last year, I think it's safe to say maybe some of his confidence was shaken a little bit last year, but I think he's feeling good about himself."

Sanchez has a league-high 52 turnovers in the last two seasons, maybe none more humiliating than when he lost the ball when he slammed into guard Brandon Moore's backside in front of a national television audience against New England on Thanksgiving night last year.

"I think he's done a nice job this offseason," Ryan said. "I think he's in great shape. Is he more accurate with the football? I'm not sure what the numbers will say. I really don't know. But I feel he has a confidence about him."

Both Sanchez and Smith had solid practices Thursday, with neither turning the ball over. That was a problem for Sanchez last Wednesday, the last practice in front of media, when he threw three interceptions.

Even with that performance, though, Sanchez said he has felt comfortable all spring, and the coaches have seen it.

"They have the luxury of seeing the entire body of work this offseason, and they know I'm working toward good things," Sanchez said. "It's the best I've felt in a while. I'm putting together one of my best offseasons."

He attributes some of that to being in Mornhinweg's West Coast-style system, acknowledging that the quick, short-passing game might be better for his skill set. It's something he's familiar with from his college days at Southern California, where the Trojans used some of the same sort of plays.

"I just feel that it suits my abilities," he said. "You know you don't have to be someone that runs a 4.5 (40-yard dash) type deal. You can get back there, get rid of the ball ... you know there are places to go with the football."

Sanchez is also on his third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, with Mornhinweg following Tony Sparano, who replaced Brian Schottenheimer. But, it's easy to see that Sanchez clearly enjoys learning from Mornhinweg, who has a long history of working with star quarterbacks such as Steve Young, Jeff Garcia and Michael Vick.

"You should just hear him talk," Sanchez said. "Not only is he engaging, but he just has so much knowledge of the subject. He's like one of those professors in college that you like going to their class, and that was rare."

He is also working with a new quarterbacks coach in David Lee after the team did not renew the contract of Matt Cavanaugh, whom Sanchez says "actually was a West Coast guy" in his approach.

"I felt like Cav was in a tough spot," Sanchez said, "because maybe the offenses didn't match up to his style, if that makes sense."

Ryan said Sanchez and Smith have flip-flopped working with the first-team offense on some days of practice, and acknowledged that it's way too early to say who has an edge.

"Again, there is going to be competition for this job, there's no doubt," Ryan said. "It's not clear-cut that this guy is the starting quarterback. The guy is going to have to earn it no matter who it is."

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