Expect a new and improved Mark Sanchez for Jets this season
By RICK GOSSELIN - The Dallas Morning News
RICK GOSSELIN The Dallas Morning News
The Dallas Cowboys should see a different Mark Sanchez in the season opener than the NFL has seen the last two years from the New York Jets quarterback.
Sanchez was the fifth overall selection of the 2009 draft. Coach Rex Ryan plugged him in right away as the starter, and the Jets went to the AFC Championship Game in each of Sanchez's two seasons.
But Sanchez has been a member of the supporting cast thus far in his career, handing the ball off on offense and watching from the sideline as the Jets played suffocating defense.
Sanchez finished 28th in the NFL in passing as a rookie and 27th in 2010. His penchant for turnovers didn't damage the Jets, though, because they finished in the top 5 in rushing and defense both seasons to claim wild-card playoff berths.
But all that should change in 2011. Expect Sanchez to make a quantum leap with his game this fall.
Long-time readers of my NFL draft coverage know I'm not a fan of college quarterbacks leaving school early for the NFL. The more snaps a quarterback takes on campus, the more pass coverages and blitzes he sees, and the better prepared he is for an NFL career.
Peyton Manning remained at Tennessee for four seasons, throwing 1,381 college passes. Philip Rivers spent four seasons at North Carolina State and threw 1,665 passes. The same with Drew Brees and Carson Palmer - four seasons on campus and more than 1,500 career passes.
All quickly developed into elite NFL quarterbacks, in large part, because of their college experiences. They were ready for the next challenge when they arrived in the NFL.
Sanchez was not. He started only one season at Southern Cal before applying for early admission to the 2009 draft. He left college having thrown only 487 passes. His lack of pocket presence and experience translated into 20 interceptions and 10 fumbles his rookie year.
In his first two NFL seasons, Sanchez passed for fewer than 200 yards in 18 of his 31 starts. He failed to throw a touchdown pass in 11 games and didn't pass for 300 yards until his 23rd career start. His lack of experience was holding him back.
But over these last four years - two at Southern Cal and two with the Jets - Sanchez has thrown 1,358 passes. That's still fewer than Manning threw in four seasons coming out of Tennessee.
But those 1,358 passes have finally allowed Sanchez to see what he has needed to see at the quarterback position to build a memory bank. All those throws have given Sanchez the experience to survive and the confidence to thrive in the NFL.
Now Sanchez is ready to become a full-service NFL quarterback. Ryan has named him a team captain and expects Sanchez to compete with the Tom Bradys and Mannings for AFC Pro Bowl spots.
Sanchez has the talent to do just that. He also has the weapons. Ryan has assembled a receiving corps this season that has been battle-tested at the highest level.
Both Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress have caught game-winning touchdown passes in Super Bowls. Derrick Mason also has caught passes in a Super Bowl and is closing in on 1,000 career receptions.
Once again, Ryan has predicted the Jets will win the Super Bowl. With the maturation of Sanchez, Ryan may finally have a quarterback capable of delivering on his prediction.
The Cowboys will be the first team to see the new and improved Sanchez. Rob Ryan would be wise not to underestimate his brother's quarterback.