After three months of hype, fueled by bold talk from both players and Smith's controversial decision to blow off Sanchez's recent passing camp, the New York Jets' quarterback competition turned serious Thursday as the team arrived in upstate New York for the start of training camp.
Smith, who said in an interview last week that he has a "great shot" to win the job, backed off that statement slightly, saying: "In my heart, I expect to have a shot." But the rookie's confidence came out when asked if he hopes one day to become one of the best quarterbacks in history.
"That's my goal. Yes, sir," Smith said.
Sanchez, outspoken in his belief that he will claim the position, maintained his upbeat approach.
"I'm confident the coaches will pick the best player and I'm confident in my ability to be the best player," said Sanchez, adding that the training-camp vibe reminds him of his rookie season, 2009.
That year, Sanchez needed two preseason games before he was declared the winner in a competition against veteran Kellen Clemens. Coach Rex Ryan, who presided over that battle, said he has no timetable for Sanchez versus Smith.
"That's something you want to do sooner than later, but the big thing is to make sure there's fair competition and you feel good about the decision," said Ryan, who's facing a make-or-break season as the Jets' coach. "It has to be the right decision."
Ideally, the Jets would like to make it before the third preseason game, giving the winner enough time to practice with the starting unit in preparation for the season opener.
The preseason could be a struggle for the offense.
Top wide receiver Santonio Holmes, rehabbing a surgically repaired foot, began camp on the physically unable to perform list. There's a chance Holmes won't play in any preseason games, a source said, and there's growing concern he might not be ready for Week 1. New York re-signed Braylon Edwards to add depth, although he said his goal is to start.
Running back Mike Goodson, facing legal troubles, didn't show for camp and was placed on the did not report list. The team won't say when it expects him back. Fellow running back Joe McKnight, also their top kickoff returner, flunked the conditioning test and was added to the PUP list.
Expectations for the Jets haven't been this low since 2006. Even the normally bombastic Ryan was relatively subdued, declining to make any predictions for the season. The Jets will have 11 new starters, and one of the key additions, first-round cornerback Dee Milliner, remains unsigned. He's expected to replace Darrelle Revis.
At least the quarterback competition will keep things interesting.
"I think it will be a great competition," Ryan said. "One thing [Smith] doesn't have to worry about is getting a fair shake. He'll definitely get that."
There's a definite competitive tension between Smith and Sanchez. Smith, like all the skill-position players, was invited to attend Sanchez's "Jets West" camp three weeks ago in Southern California. More than a dozen players showed up, but not Smith.
"I don't think I need to set any record straight," Smith said. "Everyone was invited to go. I decided to stay home in Florida. I still got in good work and was able to prepare.
"Me and Mark, people are trying to make an issue out of that. There's no issue there. We're here to compete. We have a good working relationship."
Smith said he hasn't known Sanchez long enough to develop a personal relationship. Sanchez said he didn't feel the need to talk to Smith about missing "Jets West."
"Things are business as usual," said Sanchez, attempting to rebound from his worst season. "We're competing our butts off, going to practice and everything is great."
The first practice is Friday. It's time to play, not talk.