CORTLAND, N.Y. (AP) — Bart Scott likes what he has seen from Mark Sanchez on the field this summer.
So much so, the linebacker and the rest of his New York Jets teammates anticipate him becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. And, Scott means this season.
“To take that next step, to be one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league,” Scott said Wednesday of the team’s expectations for Sanchez. “It’s Year 4 and in Year 4, the game slows down for you.”
Sanchez has handled himself well in the face of a potentially dicey situation with Tim Tebow in town and many wondering when the backup quarterback will assume the starting job. Instead of wilting under the pressure, Sanchez has stood up and shown himself to be the leader of the Jets (No. 17 in the AP Pro32) on the field and unfazed in the face of constant questions about Tebowmania.
“I think everybody has seen a difference in how he walks, how he handles it if he throws a bad ball, how he carries himself,” Scott said. “Mark’s always been a guy that you can see his emotions and how he’s feeling about himself by his facial expressions. I think now he carries himself upright and he sticks that chest out like a peacock. I think that really shows confidence. But it also helps and inspires his players because they respond because he’s their leader, and they’re are going to go as he goes.”
Much the same might be said of the Jets’ season.
If Sanchez can cut down on the mistakes — namely turnovers — that plagued him last season and show an improvement in reading defenses, New York can be in for a return trip to the playoffs.
If not, the calls for Tebow to start will become louder and doubts will grow over whether Sanchez can ever truly be the franchise quarterback they envisioned him to be when they traded up to draft him in 2009.
“The quarterback needs to take us there, and we’re counting on Mark to do that,” cornerback Darrelle Revis said. “Everybody has to do their job, but if we lose, it falls on Mark. If we win, it falls on Mark. The biggest thing is, we’re very confident in Mark and we know he can lead us. He’s done it in the past, and we’re counting on him.”
There have been plenty of comparisons during the last few months to the Giants’ Eli Manning, who heard many of the same things as he underwhelmed during his first three seasons. During Manning’s fourth season, though, things clicked — all the way to a Super Bowl title.
“I wish we could do that,” Scott said. “I love that one.”
Scott added that Baltimore’s Joe Flacco made a jump in his fourth season, and “you could see Mark do the same.”
He also likes the way Sanchez responds to adversity, particularly when things don’t go right during practice.
“I always thought he overreacted too much to bad plays,” Scott said. “You look at Eli. He has the ultimate poker face. His happy face, his sad face and his excited face are all the same. I think that’s one of his strengths. If defenses see they’re getting to you, they’re only going to pile on.”
Which is something that happened to Sanchez in the offseason, as anonymous players questioned his leadership abilities and called for the Jets to try to bring Peyton Manning to New York.
That didn’t happen, of course, as Manning went to Denver. So, the Jets tried to show their confidence in Sanchez in the form of a three-year, $40.5 million contract extension that would keep him in New York until 2016.
Then, a funny thing happened just a few weeks later when the Jets traded for Tebow — and everyone wondered how and if the two quarterbacks would even be able to co-exist. Instead of sulking, Sanchez has said all the right things since the day Tebow arrived and that has carried onto the field, where Scott thinks the quarterback is doing his best “to prove the doubters wrong.”
And, there are still plenty of those. But to a man, they aren’t in green and white jerseys.
“I think his confidence is higher than I have ever seen it,” coach Rex Ryan said. “I think his confidence is right there. He can make all of the throws. He is no stranger to the coverages now. As multiple as they are in this league, he’s able to identify them. I think he is sky-high right now in his confidence and I think his teammates have that confidence in him as well.”
Ryan has insisted all offseason that Sanchez is his guy, the team’s unquestioned starting quarterback and a rising player in the league.
Perhaps all the way into the top 10 at his position?
“I don’t want to get into that,” said Ryan, who’s not big on making guarantees these days. “I just know that this guy is a proven winner, he has elevated his game and I think his teammates recognize that.”
NOTES: LB Calvin Pace once called the wildcat offense “nonsense” and “gimmicky” after Miami used it to beat the Jets in 2009. Well, guess what? The coach who made it successful with Miami — Tony Sparano — is here now as offensive coordinator and New York plans to have a wildcat package with Tebow. “I guess I’m going to have to eat my words on that one,” Pace said with a grin. “You know, that was a stupid comment by me, man. We had got our butts kicked.” … Rookie WR Stephen Hill appeared fine a day after injuring his right finger, participating in team drills with the finger taped up. … CB Antonio Cromartie caught a pass from Tebow while working briefly with the second-team offense, but the catch was called back by a penalty. … Sanchez, Greg McElroy and Matt Simms wowed the crowd by each tossing a football into a garbage can from about 40 yards away — on consecutive throws. Tebow didn’t try the throw because he was working with the special teams unit.
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