DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Sports Writer
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) -- Mark Sanchez threw three interceptions, and Geno Smith talked about all the improvements he needs to make.
Yeah, this New York Jets' quarterback competition sure has a long way to go.
It's early, but the two quarterbacks considered the front-runners for the starting job didn't exactly impress Wednesday during the Jets' first practice of organized team activities open to the media. And, count coach Rex Ryan among those who wasn't particularly thrilled with what he saw.
"I want there to be a sense of urgency with this football team to protect this football," Ryan said. "Above anything else, protect the football and, along those lines, protect the quarterback. I think that's critical."
Sanchez has certainly struggled with that throughout his career, and particularly the last two seasons in which he has 52 turnovers. On one interception in practice, big defensive lineman Damon Harrison pulled the ball out of the air near the line of scrimmage, causing Sanchez to shake his head in disgust.
"Of all people, freakin' Snacks," said a grinning Sanchez, referring to the nickname for the 350-pound Harrison. "That's like your worst nightmare."
For the Jets, too.
"That's one you've just got to throw it away," Ryan said. "I prefer he gets rid of it and throws it away or runs with it."
And, they've seen bad plays way too often for a player once deemed as a franchise quarterback who went No. 5 overall in the 2009 draft. While it's extremely early in the offseason program and Ryan says both Sanchez and Smith did "good things," the Jets coach added that it's "disappointing" to see the veteran turn the ball over.
"That's going to be the pressure that we're putting on him that, 'no, this is unacceptable,'" Ryan said. "He did a lot of great things, and it's not that you try to cover up the fact you had some bad plays. No, no, no, you flat tell him: 'We can't have these,' and all that type of stuff. He knows."
Again, this is hardly the scorching heat of a training camp quarterback competition. Not yet, anyway. But offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has made it clear that every throw, every play will factor in the team's ultimate decision on who will be under center when the team opens the season against Tampa Bay in September.
Mornhinweg also would like to see one quarterback emerge quickly as the likely starter, and hasn't ruled out having named one by training camp.
While Greg McElroy and Matt Simms are also on the roster, it is generally believed Sanchez and Smith will be the main competitors for the job, especially with David Garrard retiring because of a lingering knee issue. Sanchez and Smith took the majority of snaps -- about 80 percent of them -- on Wednesday.
"I'm shaking the rust off a little bit," Sanchez said, "getting back into the swing of things, especially with a lot of young guys."
That likely played some role in the offense looking, in Ryan's words, a bit "like a Chinese fire drill." The Jets were without Santonio Holmes (foot), Stephen Hill (knee), Clyde Gates (hamstring) and Jordan White (undisclosed) during the practice session.
Still, Sanchez said Mornhinweg was pleased with "95 percent" of what he did Wednesday. He also credited quarterbacks coach David Lee with improving his footwork.
"I just really feel like this coaching staff will get the best out of me," Sanchez said.
Meanwhile, Smith showed some nice zip on his passes but misfired at times, too. His one interception wasn't all his fault, though, as it came on a pass that probably should've been caught by Thomas Mayo but was tipped twice and picked off by linebacker Garrett McIntyre.
"I've got to put it on him," Smith said, blaming himself and not the receiver. "I put the ball a little bit too high. It's something I'll correct, but it just takes time."
As is learning a new offensive system. While Sanchez has a little bit of familiarity with Mornhinweg's West Coast-style system, it's something entirely new for Smith, the former West Virginia star who set a slew of school records during his Mountaineers career.
"It's just a total difference," he said. "Going from being more in the shotgun, pistol sets, to primarily being under center and running more of a West Coast offense. It just takes reps. ... It's just a process. I've been working hard at it, but there's still lots of work to do."