FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Rex Ryan will know a lot more about his team after it leaves Baltimore on Monday night.
The New York Jets coach might even find out who his starting quarterback will be.
“If there’s such a thing as a special preseason game, I think this is it,” Ryan said Saturday after the team’s first practice since returning from SUNY Cortland.
With a handful of story lines marking the Jets’ second preseason game, the top one is how rookie Mark Sanchez performs in his first NFL start against Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and the Ravens’ vaunted first-team defense.
“It’s going to be good for us,” Sanchez said, “and obviously a great measuring stick against a tough defense.”
Sanchez appears to hold a slight edge in his competition with Kellen Clemens for the starting job, and Ryan reiterated that there’s a possibility an outstanding performance by either quarterback could help decide things.
“Obviously, you’re taking the body of work and it won’t be just through one game,” he said, “but if someone steps up and shines against what is one of the best defenses in the National Football League, then you’d have to weigh it more than you would going against somebody else.”
Baltimore, of course, is where Ryan spent the last 10 years of his coaching career, including the previous four as the defensive coordinator. So, going back to the city where he made his name against a tough defense he helped build means there will be some extra juice for a game that will be meaningless in the standings.
“This is an attitude game,” Ryan said. “This is going to be great. Baltimore is as physical a football team — Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the Giants — as any teams in the league and that’s what we want to be. We want to be that tough, physical team that won’t back down from anybody.”
The positive for Sanchez, Clemens and the rest of the offense is that the Ravens’ aggressive defense is similar to what the Jets have been practicing against for the last several months.
“Our defense everyday is pretty tough,” Sanchez said, “so I can’t say this is going to be the end-all, be-all.”
Clemens agreed, saying it will be a bit easier facing a familiar defense.
“But when Bart (Scott) comes free, now that he’s a Jet, he has to lay off us, whereas when Ray Lewis comes free on Monday night, he’ll probably be seeing a whole different kind of red,” Clemens said, laughing. “There is a familiarity, but I’m sure they’ve made some tweaks since Rex has been gone.”
Ryan said both quarterbacks will play before the first half is over, but hadn’t decided on the number of series each will have.
“Is one of them going to play substantially over the other? That could happen,” Ryan said. “Kellen had the majority of the reps in the first preseason game and I could see Sanchez getting the majority of the reps in this one.”
Whether it’s two series or five, Sanchez will get the opportunity — along with the starting offensive unit — to go up against a Ravens defense that has ranked among the top for the better part of the last decade.
“They’re going to be looking to get after him, just like we’re going to be looking to get after their guy,” Ryan said. “It’s going to be as close to regular-season tempo than probably any game in the league, any preseason game.”
While Ryan and Sanchez are amped up to play the Ravens, others on the offense are trying not to make too much of a preseason game.
“Just playing a couple of series, even though you might get to see where you are and what you might need to practice on, is not like playing a full game,” left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson said. “I don’t want to put too much emphasis and say, ’Oh, yeah, this is definitely going to tell us where we’re at.’ That’s not a great measuring stick.”
The fact the offensive line will be without two starters — left guard Alan Faneca (broken finger) and right tackle Damien Woody (mild concussion) — might also affect the production of both quarterbacks.
“Do I know who we’ll have in there at the O-line? No,” Ryan said. “It doesn’t matter. I mean, it does, but in a way it doesn’t. You’re a Jet. You’re expected to step up and play. We always say to our opponent, they’ve got to strap it on tight. Same thing this week.
“We know it’s a double chin-strap game. Here it comes. Let’s see what happens.”
Notes: C Nick Mangold (right knee) is expected to play, but NT Kris Jenkins (left calf), CB Darrelle Revis (left hamstring) and CB Donald Strickland (broken toe) won’t. ... QB Chris Pizzotti was re-signed Friday so Ryan could make good on a promise to get the former Harvard star in a game.