FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Red light. Green light. Forget it.
A few hours after saying the New York Jets are considering using a wristband with plays designated by color — red, yellow and green — to help struggling quarterback Geno Smith, Rex Ryan decided against it.
“To be honest with you, I don’t plan on doing that now,” Ryan told ESPN NY 98.7 on Wednesday.
The Jets, trying to help Smith cut down on turnovers in games, used a similar method during Mark Sanchez‘s rookie season in 2009 to help him determine how aggressive he can be on a given play.
Red plays mean the quarterback needs to be conservative, yellow means he must be cautious and green indicates he can be aggressive.
With 11 turnovers, including eight interceptions and three fumbles lost, Smith is tied with the Giants’ Eli Manning for the league lead in that dubious category.
“I really haven’t planned anything specifically yet with him, but we’ll see what happens during the week,” Ryan said before practice. “I had mentioned that red-yellow-green, and hey, whatever it takes.”
Smith said after practice that the Jets hadn’t spoken to him about using the wristband system.
“If it helps the team and if it helps me get better,” Smith said, “then I’m all for it.”
Smith is learning on the fly as a rookie, and the Jets are trying to remain patient with the second-round draft pick. There have been exciting flashes at times mixed in with some miserable moments, such as the four turnovers last Sunday that led to 28 points for the Titans in the Jets’ 38-13 loss.
Sanchez is out with a shoulder injury and on injured reserve with a designation to return as he contemplates whether he should have surgery. Meanwhile, the only other quarterbacks on the roster are the inexperienced Matt Simms, who has never thrown a pass in the regular season, and veteran Brady Quinn, who has been inactive the last few weeks.
So, until he gets a red light, it’s Smith’s job.
“I don’t necessarily think that it’s really mental,” Ryan said. “I think it’s the experience of what you can do and what you can’t do — when you have to try to dirt the ball, and when you have to get rid of it.”
While there was no talk of the red-yellow-green plays, Smith said the team did put him through some drills to help him become more aware of securing the ball. He is focusing on running with the ball high and close to his body rather than letting it become an easy target for defensive players.
Against Tennessee, Smith ran for a first down in the second quarter but then had the ball tomahawked out of his hand. The Titans recovered and moments later scored a touchdown.
“We did a little bit of footwork drills, got a little tired and then we had guys tugging at the ball to see how you would hold it,” he said. “That’s pretty much how it is in the game. You’re a bit tired and you’ve been running around and guys are stripping at it, but you’ve got to hold on to it.”
And, Smith got a good workout in with “pretty much everyone” taking their shots at trying to dislodge the ball from his hands.
Smith, of course, is not the first touted rookie to struggle with ball security. He did seem surprised, however, when told that Peyton Manning threw 11 interceptions in his first four NFL starts in 1998.
“It’s a part of the growing pains as a quarterback and as a rookie, especially at any position, let alone quarterback, the toughest position in the league,” Smith said. “I’m not trying to compare scenarios or his career to mine. I’m just out there trying to focus on myself and eliminate those turnovers.
“I don’t want to have eight at this point, but it’s already said and done, so I’ve got to move on from it and just get better.”
Ryan acknowledged that there’s a “fine line” between making sure Smith doesn’t become too timid with his playmaking while focusing on not having turnovers.
“There’s no question you want to be aggressive, but you don’t want to do something to the detriment of your football team,” Ryan said. “Clearly, turning the football over has been a real problem. Not just this season, but the last couple of seasons.
“And we all know what that leads to.”