YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Jets QB Mark Sanchez's on-the-job challenge

The USC product twice helped New York get to the playoffs, but after two lesser seasons he faces competition from rookie quarterback Geno Smith.

August 06, 2013|By Sam Farmer
  • Mark Sanchez understands he'll need to take criticism in stride if he's going to successful in becoming a better quarterback for the New York Jets.
Mark Sanchez understands he'll need to take criticism in stride if… (Bill Kostroun / Associated…)

CORTLAND, N.Y. — On a wall in his home, Mark Sanchez has an eye-catching piece of art, a super-sized back page of a New York tabloid from his rookie season in the NFL. It's not a memento from the 2009 draft, when the New York Jets traded up to make him the fifth pick, or a keepsake from a big win.

Instead, it's a photo of the first-year quarterback trudging off the field after a five-interception performance in an overtime loss to Buffalo. The story has a snappy, two-word headline:

"Broadway Schmo."

"I had one of my guys blow it up," said Sanchez, who played in college for USC. "You've got to be able to laugh at some of the stuff. At least I do. You've got to be able to move on and take things in stride."

Thick skin is a requirement for any New York quarterback, but these days Sanchez could use flameproof Kevlar. Once among the NFL's rising stars, a player who made the AFC championship game in his first two seasons and notched a league-record four road playoff victories, he is now fighting for his career.

Sanchez is locked in a battle with rookie Geno Smith, a second-round pick from West Virginia who's getting half the reps with the first-team offense. Many Jets fans are clamoring for a switch to Smith, hand-picked by new General Manager John Idzik.

Over lunch at a greasy-spoon diner down the road from training camp, with his dad, Nick, by his side, Sanchez talked about the difference a couple of years can make. He conceded that three years ago, when his career was going so well, he could not have envisioned being in this type of make-or-break situation, with the widespread belief the Jets are keeping him only because they have to pay his $8.25-million salary.

"But it will turn around," said Sanchez, 26. We'll get back on track, get a couple wins, and once we get in the playoffs this year we'll make a little run. That's all you need to do is make your run, get hot at the right time, stay healthy."

The Jets have done none of that the past two years, finishing 8-8 in 2011 and 6-10 last season. Their once strong defense has deteriorated, their offensive line is coming off an abysmal season, there's not a 1,000-yard rusher on the roster, and Sanchez committed a league-high 52 turnovers the past two seasons.

"No. 1, I've just got to play better. I'll always take ownership of passes that don't work out," Sanchez said.

He added that being in his third system, now under new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, has been a challenge for the entire offense.

"We've talked a lot about system, and having the same system, having a core group of guys that stay with you," he said. "I think that chemistry helps, anticipating moves, throwing that route to a guy hundreds of times changes a lot of things that you're thinking, changes the way that you throw the ball, and eliminates a lot of the indecision or the unsure feeling of throwing to a new guy."

His performance in the team's annual Green and White scrimmage Saturday night was emblematic of Sanchez's career: He had one memorable bad play (an interception on a deep throw) and finished with a memorable good one (a long touchdown pass). He said he noticed some of the fans booing him on the interception were the same ones asking him for his autograph after the event.

""It's either you're the greatest, or the worst ever," he said. "You're never mediocre. That's just the way it is here."

Sanchez is keeping one eye on Smith, who had a solid but unspectacular night, but is careful not to obsess on the competition.

"I'm unaffected by what Geno's doing," he said. "I think he's a good player. I think he plays well. But it doesn't really matter. I'm trying to beat the defense, and if I'm worried about Geno and it inhibits me, then I'm hurting myself."

It's unlikely Sanchez will ever live down last season's most embarrassing play, when he tried to run up the middle against New England and slammed into the backside of one of his blockers, losing the football as he toppled backward to the turf. Patriots safety Steve Gregory scooped up the loose ball and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.

To make matters worse for Sanchez, the Keystone Kops moment happened on Thanksgiving Day, so football fans from coast to coast were watching.

"People ask me about the butt fumble and say, 'Gosh, doesn't that really bum you out?'" Sanchez said. "Are you kidding me? You think every Friday if it comes on 'SportsCenter' I'm just down in the dumps? Who cares? I'm working out. I'm hanging with my family. I'm doing some charity thing. It's the last thing on my mind."

Jets Coach Rex Ryan announced Tuesday that Sanchez would be the starter for the team's exhibition opener Friday against Detroit, and that Smith also would work with the first-string offense. That's not a big surprise, nor is it an indication the starting job is Sanchez's to lose. Smith started the scrimmage and, because of the way the Jets are dividing the reps on a day-by-day basis, got more snaps with the first team.

Los Angeles Times Articles