Gruden talks QBs, 'championship defense'

ATLANTA -- In a pregame sitdown with ESPN.com, Jon Gruden discussed the New York Jets quarterback situation, including coach Rex Ryan's ill-fated decision to play Mark Sanchez behind a backup offensive line in a preseason game.

Gruden said he was "surprised" by it, adding that he couldn't recall another coach making a move like that -- one that resulted in a significant shoulder injury for Sanchez. As for Geno Smith, ESPN's "Monday Night Football" analyst said it's too early to draw any definitive conclusions, but noted that Smith has to reduce his turnovers or "they'll have somebody in the bullpen pretty quick." Quarterbacks aside, Gruden praised Ryan's work, saying the Jets are playing "championship defense."

Our chat with Gruden, who will be in the booth with Mike Tirico for the Jets-Atlanta Falcons game:

Geno Smith attended your pre-draft quarterback camp. Is he developing into the quarterback you thought he'd be?

Jon Gruden: It's way too early to say. Talent-wise, you see the athleticism, the passing ability. You also see a tough kid. The guy's been booed, the guy's been beat up, the guy's come back. I like that. Those three things I like a lot. I think as his supporting cast improves, we'll be able to see the true Geno Smith. They struggle at guard. They've struggled with their receiving corps. He was thrust into this position, I think, because of the injury to Sanchez in the preseason. I don't think they wanted him to be the opening-day starter -- I can't say that for sure. There are a lot of situations that go into what we've seen so far.

Were you surprised that Sanchez was inserted into the fourth quarter of a preseason game, behind the backup offensive line? At the time, it seemed like he was the presumptive starter.

JG: I was surprised, because I've never really seen that. You have a proven commodity -- you probably know more about Sanchez than you do about any other Jet player -- so I was surprised to see him in the game at that point, behind a young, unproven, inexperienced line. They're just too hard to find, these quarterbacks. I'm surprised they risked it, putting him out there.

Marty Mornhinweg has been aggressive with his play-calling. Do you think he needs to dial it back a little bit to help the rookie quarterback through choppy waters?

JG: I like the way they're moving the football. You know, they are moving the ball, they are making yards. With a kid that can throw the deep pass, and the fact that you're getting some pressure looks that make him pass, why not accentuate his strengths and take some shots deep? Buffalo will be the first team to tell you the kid can make some deep passes. You see the Wildcat, you see the zone-read, you see the no-back sets. You see him dabbling in a lot of different agendas, different types of offenses. And I see West Coast passing principles that Marty learned from Bill Walsh and Mike Holmgren. I see progress. I see a lot of offense. It's just ball security. We're having a totally different conversation if Geno can protect the ball better. That's what he's got to do.

The Jets haven't named Smith the permanent starter. They say he's week to week, competing for the job. What's your take on that?

Gruden: It's probably because they've seen too many turnovers. I mean, 11 turnovers in four games is not good. There's also a seven- or eight-play reel where the ball should've been intercepted and wasn't. The decision-making has to get better. The ball security must improve -- fast. Quarterbacks that turn it over, running backs that can't protect it, receivers that can't catch it ... they don't play in the league. So ball security is paramount. He has to show dramatic improvement in that. If he does, he's got a chance to be the quarterback. If he doesn't, they'll have somebody in the bullpen pretty quick.

As a former head coach, put yourself in Rex Ryan's shoes, working for a new general manager and knowing your job could be in jeopardy. How tough is that dynamic?

JG: He's in a tough spot -- two new coordinators, new GM, plus he's on his second rookie quarterback. You can only worry about the things you can control. I remember saying, 'You know what? If I'm here 10 days, it'll be the 10 best days of hard work I've ever done. If it's 10 years, I'll give you 10 years, all I've got.' That's what I like about Rex Ryan. He's working his butt off, his defense still is on the cutting edge. They're playing championship defense right now. Worry about what you can control. Don't fight every battle out there. You just can't explain some things that happened, and he shouldn't even try. I like that his press conferences got shorter. It means he's going back into the film room to work with his football team.