Healthy and more confident, QB Mark Sanchez says Jets are 'my team'
CORTLAND, N.Y. – Mark Sanchez's path to becoming a leader began back in the second grade.
When his class lined up for school field trips, his parents insisted he make sure he was at the front.
If there was trash on the floor, he was the one who would pick it up and toss it.
Guess who was raising his hand when the teacher needed someone to pass out papers?
"That's the way I've been taught by my parents," the New York Jets quarterback said between practices Wednesday. "That's just the way it was."
And, it's still that way for Sanchez.
He has been different for a while, a special person and talent — something the Jets raved about after they made him the fifth overall pick in last year's draft. Now in his second NFL season, Sanchez is channeling that second-grader on the football field.
"Now, it's, 'This guy's tired,' and I'll pick up his pads for him," Sanchez said. "'You need some water?' or, 'Give these guys a 30-second break,' and really having that awareness to try and read other guys. When they do a great job, you've got to let them know. And, when they do something wrong, you've got to let them know. And that's probably the toughest part, trying to find your way in there."
Sanchez spent much of last season doing just that, making plenty of mistakes along the way. He came on strong down the stretch, though, and helped the Jets reach the AFC championship game.
The 23-year-old quarterback's development will play a key role in whether the Jets can make a run to the Super Bowl. And it all stems from confidence, something offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer drilled into him this offseason.
"One of the goals this year that I talked with Schotty, is, 'This is my team. This is my offense. And, you need to own it,'" Sanchez said. "He looked at me and I looked at him, and that's what we said."
The face of the franchise was fully embracing his role as the team leader.
"It's about on and off the field, being the quarterback," he said. "When we go out to dinner, when we're in meetings, how do you act? How do you carry yourself?
"When you walk into the room, people should know: That's the quarterback, that's our guy."
There's no doubt about that among his teammates or coaches. He spent much of his time at the team's facility in Florham Park, N.J., this offseason while rehabilitating following knee surgery. Long days turned into late nights — and training camp was still months away.
"With all the preparation, he knows — and the team knows — nobody works harder than he does," coach Rex Ryan said.
"Physically, I feel great," Sanchez added. "That's a huge step for me."
While many NFL players spent time before training camp on vacation, Sanchez gathered several of his wide receivers in Southern California for a week in July. The "Jets West Camp" — which included customized T-shirts designed by Sanchez — gave the quarterback a chance to work even closer with the receivers.
"Things are a lot slower for him now," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "He's got a year under his belt. He's taking hold of that leadership role and he's in and out of the huddle. He's been doing a great job with that."
Sanchez has also been working on his presence at the line of scrimmage, with his cadence in particular. He drew defensive players offsides in three consecutive practices.
"Last year, it was like, nobody's falling for anything," Ryan said. "He's learning how to use his voice, and use that cadence to his advantage."
Sanchez said both recently signed veteran Mark Brunell and Schottenheimer have helped with that.
"Talking about which syllables, which number, colors to emphasize, and then going back and kind of listening to myself in my head in the quarterback-center exchange," Sanchez said.
With all the talk about taking a lead role, Sanchez laughed when he was asked it means having to pay for more dinners with his teammates.
"Sometimes it takes a dent out of your pocketbook," he said, "but that's all part of it.
NOTES: DT Kris Jenkins (hamstring) practiced for the first time since starting camp on the active-physically unable to perform list. He sat out in pass drills as the team eases him back in after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last season. ... DE Shaun Ellis was held out of the morning session with a hip flexor, but returned in the afternoon.