CORTLAND, N.Y. -- With his offensive coordinator barking, "Don't limp, don't limp," a gimpy Geno Smith took the majority of the practice reps Sunday despite an ankle injury -- perhaps an indication of how much the New York Jets want him to replace Mark Sanchez.
The rookie quarterback, who suffered a mild ankle sprain in the preseason opener Friday night, was cleared for practice after X-rays and an MRI exam. Smith limped noticeably at times, and his drop-backs were slower than usual, but he was determined to practice. And he got no argument from the coaches.
"Marty [Mornhinweg] told me about Brett Favre and how he played through pretty much every single injury," said Smith, referring to the Jets' coordinator, a former Green Bay Packers assistant. "I try to be the same way."
Smith acknowledged that he felt "slower," admitting his ankle was sore and less than 100 percent. But the Jets wanted to maintain their practice rotation as they move toward the second preseason game, Saturday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Coach Rex Ryan was non-committal about this week's starter. Sanchez started the opener, with many assuming it would be Smith in the second game. After all, it's a so-called open competition. But the coach offered a cryptic response when asked to explain his thought process.
"There could be some factors that change things," Ryan said. "I'm not going to get into the specifics, but obviously there could be some factors that change the original thought. We'll see as we get closer."
One of those factors is Smith's health. If he labors throughout the week, it could force Ryan to go again with Sanchez, which probably would effectively end the competition.
Ryan said he has no plans to name the opening-day starter before Saturday night. Chances are, he'll wait until next week. It seemed curious as to why the Jets simply didn't give Smith an extra day to rest his sore ankle. Ryan defended the decision, saying the medical staff felt there were no issues.
"When our trainers are like, 'Hey, look, he's a go' -- that's it, he's going to be out there," Ryan said. "He was cleared to practice. We'll see what he looks like [Monday]. Maybe it's different than what it looked like today, I'm not sure."
Every day of practice is critical for Smith, trying to learn an offensive system dramatically different than his college offense. He also said it was important to practice to show his new teammates he can play hurt.
"You can't miss a day of practice," he said. "I pride myself on being out there at all times, and one little ankle injury wasn't going to stop me from practicing with my teammates."
Smith began to lose ground to Sanchez last week in practice, but Sanchez had an interception returned for a touchdown in the opener -- a horrible throw on a screen pass that exasperated members of the organization. It was reminiscent of 2012, when Sanchez committed 26 turnovers.
"I said, 'Oh, shoot,'" said Ryan, deadpanning, "I said something with an S."
"He clearly made a mistake on the interception. It was a huge error. You've got to get rid of that ball," added Ryan, who wanted Sanchez to throw it away instead of trying to throw it to a fullback -- Tommy Bohanon -- who was on his knees after getting knocked down.
Sanchez almost threw another interception on his second series before rallying the offense to an 80-yard touchdown drive, hitting Jeff Cumberland for a 26-yard score. Ryan commended Sanchez on his ability to rebound, saying he liked his accuracy on the touchdown drive. After the game, Sanchez praised rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah for making a terrific play on the interception. On Sunday, he finally admitted it was his mistake.
"If it's a dead play, it's a dead play -- just let it go and dirt it," said Sanchez, who went 10-for-13 for 125 yards.
It was a relatively nondescript performance for Smith (6-for-7, 47 yards), but he received a positive review from Ryan. The only hint of criticism was that he needs to keep two hands on the ball while moving in the pocket.
"He did some good things," Ryan said. "He showed poise. I thought he looked pretty good. He played well."
Despite the limp, Smith was sharp in practice -- well, except for one play, a red-zone interception. He called it "a pretty good day of practice."