"He can do more" than Sanchez, one veteran said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
It was Sanchez's turn to lead the starting unit and he struggled, throwing an interception for the second straight practice. Smith has yet to throw an interception in team drills over the first five practices.
It's premature to anoint a starter -- after all, they haven't begun live tackling -- but the early development is noteworthy because people close to the team expected Sanchez, based on his experience, to look sharper than Smith at the outset. That hasn't been the case.
"Everybody gets enamored with the guy who throws a 96 mph fastball," coach Rex Ryan said of Smith. To be politically correct, Ryan quickly added, "But Mark certainly has a good enough arm to play in this league."
It didn't sound like a ringing endorsement. Sanchez declined to say whether he believes he's leading the competition.
"I don't know, ask the coaches," he said. "I feel good, though. I feel confident. I feel like I'm playing really well."
Smith has sparkled with his accuracy, but he tends to hold the ball too long when facing pressure, according to Ryan. That, he said, "concerns me a little bit." The organization knows what it has in Sanchez, who was benched late last season.
Privately, the hope is that Smith can master the offense and seize the starting job. Even if he doesn't win it, Smith will be involved in the offense. Even though Tim Tebow is gone, Ryan said he remains committed to running the ball from the quarterback position.
He's intrigued by Smith's running ability, which would give the Jets a run-pass option at the quarterback position. Ryan acknowledged the plan, admitting last year's strategy under former coordinator Tony Sparano was ill-conceived. They never trusted Tebow to throw the ball. Whenever they used him, it usually was a read-option running play between the tackles.
"I think if that's the only thing you do with that position, why don't you just leave a running back in, a guy that's trained to do it?" Ryan said, second-guessing last season's approach. "If you're going to have a quarterback do it, like a (Colin) Kaepernick or somebody like that, it becomes more of a weapon because you know it's not just Tebow coming and he's going to run the ball. That's kind of where we were last year."
Ryan laughed when asked if he plans to use the Wildcat (or read-option) more than last year. Tebow finished with 32 rushes, averaging only 3.2 yards per carry.
"We probably will because, you guys say it, we never used it," he said. "So I would say, yeah, I think that will be part of what we do."
In the Wildcat, the ball is snapped to a nonquarterback. In those situations, the Jets can utilize wide receiver Jeremy Kerley or a running back, probably Bilal Powell. When Smith is on the field, either as the starter or a change-of-pace quarterback, they can employ the read-option.
The presence of new quarterbacks coach David Lee, one of the Wildcat innovators, is another reason the team is planning to use it. Sanchez said he could run the read-option, but there's little chance of that happening. His running ability will forever be linked to the "Butt Fumble," when he ran into a lineman's rear end last season.
Smith's athleticism could be a factor in the quarterback decision. Sanchez acknowledged that Smith is "very talented when it comes to that stuff. But I can't worry about it." Sanchez joked about the quarterback competition, mentioning that he sees more front-office types on the field for practice, scribbling notes during routine drills.
He said it reminds him of his rookie year in 2009, when he won the job against Kellen Clemens.
"For you (reporters), it's your job, but it's funny to see everybody else charting stuff," he said. "Everything is under scrutiny. There's a ton of pressure. That's the way you like it; that's the way you play this position."