By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork/WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — I like to have fun at Mark Sanchez’s expense on Twitter. Because the guy has been a church mouse this offseason he’s left me and many like me with no choice.
While it’s easy to say Sanchez will do his talking on the field next season, as many of his supporters have pointed out to me, often with four-letter words and exclamation points, I’m left to wonder, if he is indeed the Jets’ starting quarterback, if he’ll have anything left emotionally to do so.
Then again, who really knows what Sanchez is thinking these days? Rumors are flying like a Peyton Manning spiral that the four-time NFL MVP is squarely on the Jets’ radar. Anything is possible. Well, almost anything. The Jets’ incumbent quarterback coming out from under his rock to fight for that which is his seems impossible.
And I’m not just referring to his hiatus since the Manning stuff heated up. Sanchez has been a public no-show since what many deemed a laughable post-game press conference in the aftermath of the putrid regular season-ending loss in Miami back in January.
As I tweeted on Wednesday, it’s hard to feel sorry for Sanchez. While I think, due to his age and relative inexperience dating to his days at USC, too much has been made of his recent regression on the field, new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano should be given an opportunity to work with this kid, just as former Jet Chad Pennington has been doing of late down in Florida.
But as a fan used to disappointment, it’s just hard to truly rally behind Sanchez for two very real reasons.
First, he’s yet to really become a better-than-average NFL quarterback. His 2011 statistics — 3,600-plus passing yards and 32 total touchdowns — have been overshadowed by the turnovers, the deer-in-headlights post-snap demeanor and an apparent failure to truly read coverages beyond his first look.
Sanchez supporters like to point to his four postseason wins in three seasons as the rule rather than the exception. And while I agree that this quarterback does have the potential to be a guy you can trust in a big spot, his inconsistency is something you expect to dissipate as he gets older, not continue to chase him around like a shark does a baby seal.
Now you could also say the offensive line, former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and diva wide receivers did him no favors in 2011, and you’d be right. But even the mere mortal quarterbacks in this league find a way to overcome adversity. They show a flair for improvisation. They stand tall in the face of the world crashing down around them and somehow make plays.
Sanchez doesn’t do any of that nearly enough. And while it’s still fair to say he has the physical tools to eventually become that type of player, I just don’t know now if we’ll ever see it.
The second reason why it’s hard to rally behind him is more subjective, mostly because we can only base our opinions on what we see between the lines. We only know a limited amount about the man because Sanchez doesn’t let anyone in. He doesn’t show us a constant fire that every quarterback needs to be successful. Whether he’s spitting out tried and true cliches to the press or pulling disappearing acts when the wheels fall off the wagon, as they did in earnest from Week 15 until the unnamed sources finally shut up, Sanchez has never really given any indication that the Jets’ or his own failures bug him, or that he’s really that concerned with losing his job, which could very well happen in the next week.
The problem with being the strong, silent type is if you don’t consistently perform your trade admirably, you have nothing to fall back on. By not revealing some semblance of a personality, or consistent assurances that things will improve, the fans start to find it more and more difficult to say “yeah, he had a bad year, but he’s still my guy.”
I’ve been asked a bunch of times what exactly I expect Sanchez to say. The answer is simple: convince me you care.
I’m not convinced, not by a long shot.
So what happens if Manning decides it would be a lot more fun to beat Sanchez’s brains in playing for the Dolphins than parading from photo shoot to commercial shoot with his brother in New York? The short answer? The Jets could be in a lot of trouble.
The idea of possibly having to play Tom Brady and Manning four times next season doesn’t exactly warm the cockles, especially since the Jets will in all likelihood be left with a quarterback who was emotionally fragile to begin with but now must be wondering if anyone he’ll actually suit up alongside will truly be in his corner.
As I’ve stated plenty of times, it’s bad enough that the Jets as an organization have always lacked an identity and can’t help themselves but to Band-Aid their way around while they try to fix things on the fly. Soon, if not currently, they could have a player at the most important position on the field without the slightest bit of confidence and feeling unwanted. If you want to say Sanchez is a professional athlete and will have to get over it, do you honestly believe he will, knowing what we know and have seen?
Due to the brittle nature of this quarterback’s mental makeup and the fact that they may be stuck facing the very guy they appear to covet, the Jets have backed themselves into a corner organizationally and really have no choice now but to get Manning, regardless of the cost, if they have any designs on turning 8-8 into a Super Bowl run.
If the Jets had simply said that Sanchez is their quarterback and meant it, it probably would have been the type of confidence boost that could have helped this quarterback on his road to improvement. Instead, he’s actually the backup plan because the Jets, as is their custom, never stick to their convictions because they have no convictions.
Sanchez and the Jets are a perfect storm of imperfection. How can we honestly expect a player to be taught properly and to grow emotionally playing for a franchise that loves to cut and run for the quick fix when times are tough?
And if Manning signs elsewhere the Jets will be left with what will amount to a three-year reclamation project that few associated with this team want to reclaim right now. Even though Sanchez has two years left on his contract, he’s really in his walk year because unless he turns into a top 10 quarterback in 2012 the pressure on the Jets to start over again next year will be immense.
So, the choice is simple: get Manning or get on your knees and pray, something that shouldn’t be too difficult for any fan of this franchise.
This just has disaster written all over it.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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