"When the coaches say, 'First-group offense,' we know who's walking in the huddle," Nelson said Tuesday. "It's not something that needs to be said. He's the guy and we're moving forward."
He, of course, is Geno Smith. Barring an injury, he will be the Jets' opening-day quarterback, but the team isn't willing to anoint him just yet. Rex Ryan confirmed the obvious, saying Smith will start Friday night against the New York Giants, but he didn't want to make a commitment beyond then.
"When we think it's the right time, we'll tell you," said Ryan, who was peppered with questions.
Smith is expected to play two-plus quarters with the starters, meaning he will end the preseason with about 5 1/2 quarters with the first team. (Traditionally, Ryan doesn't play starters in the preseason finale.) So far, Michael Vick has played only one series with the starters. Do the math.
Why haven't the Jets made the announcement? A couple of reasons. John Idzik's mantra is competition, and he probably believes it would contradict his philosophy if they were to declare a winner at quarterback before the most important preseason game -- even though we all know it's a faux competition.
Secondly, there's the injury factor. Without using the word "injury" -- hey, the man is superstitious -- Ryan alluded to that as the reason for holding off. When asked what could happen that would affect his decision, he said, "I don't even want to think of the negative thing or whatever. Let's just let it play out. I'd rather not answer that question because there's an obvious scenario that I don't like to think about."
Can't blame him. After all, Ryan lost Mark Sanchez to a season-ending shoulder injury last preseason against the Giants.
The coach acknowledged that the third preseason game is the closest thing to the real thing, and that his starters usually end up starting the season. But he stopped short of saying the words everyone in the building, from the players to the cafeteria staff, expects to hear: Geno is our starter.
"I'm not going to name it right now, no matter how many times you ask me," he said. "Somebody fire another one at me. 'I'm going to get it out of him.' No, you're not. I've given in to you guys before. I'm not giving in on this one."