Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan chats with his new goldenboy, QB Mark Sanchez at his first practice today at the Jets complex. (JetsInsider.com Photo)
Last Sunday, as the Jets polished up their draft by selecting Iowa running back Shonn Greene (65th overall) and Nebraska guard Matt Slauson (193rd overall), their franchise quarterback was warmly introduced to his new home. After sauntering around the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park, N.J., Mark Sanchez faced a throng of cameras and was presented with his No. 6 jersey by owner Woody Johnson. Flashing a vintage smile to complement his pristine three-piece suit and Jets cap, Sanchez faced questions about his arm strength and the struggles of rookie quarterbacks in the NFL.
Sanchez brushed aside such concerns with a New York swagger and today he provided the answers to his abilities on the field, as he joined the Jets for the start of the rookie minicamp.
After spending the previous three seasons at Southern California, where Sanchez started just 16 games, Sanchez threw on his red practice jersey today and was given his first training with the offensive terminology.
"It's difficult when you first come in, it's a new system. You want to just try and speak the language as soon as possible," Sanchez said today following his first practice. "I'm trying to get all the terminology down and with me being tough on myself, I want it right everytime."
Sanchez's teachings first began back during the NFL owner's meetings in March when head coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer handed him an encyclopedia-thick playbook and extended to last night in his hotel room. Peering into the bathroom mirror, believing that he was under center for the first time, Sanchez barked the cadences to himself in preparation.
"There's no substitute for experience like that, in practice or in games. You've just got to run the plays. I was practicing play-calls in the mirror in the hotel, just so I can say it and hear what it sounds like to me. Just keep reviewing, keep studying," Sanchez said.
Sanchez explained that getting through the first few practices mistake-free does not always work according to plan, but today was a successful start for the rookie quarterback. In 11-on-11 drills, Sanchez flashed his strong arm and fired a dart to wide receiver Marcus Henry that resulted in a 65-yard touchdown.
While Sanchez's performance during the practice was impressive, his work leading up to the session caught the eye of his new head coach. Sanchez met with teammates last night and installed 18 plays on offense. Ryan explained that there were no scheduled meetings yesterday, however Schottenheimer handed out playbooks and Sanchez got the offense together.
"I think that's kind of impressive," Ryan explained today. "I think that's the kind of young man we brought in here."
Ryan approached Schottenheimer and asked him about the offensive meeting, and the Jets' offensive coordinator had no explanation for the unit's preparation. Both coaches, however, knew they had the quarterback they would want.
"A guy that loves the game, is comfortable around his teammates and can lead teammates, that's encouraging," Ryan said of Sanchez. "He's a natural leader. Some guys can lead and some guys can't. Either you got it or you don't."
As the Jets scouted out prospects last month for the draft, Sanchez's swagger and his contagious interaction with his teammates caught the Jets' eye. For a rookie quarterback, Sanchez's confidence breathes into his teammates.
"He's got a little swagger to him," Ryan said. "It's easy to follow somebody who has confidence in himself."
While Sanchez's throws looked crisp and his attitude impressed his coaches, his first practice did not come without criticism. Ryan explained that the one negative occured on the comeback routes, where Sanchez was leaving his passes inside on receivers.
"On those comeback routes, you've got to throw the ball more on the outside," Ryan said. "In this level, especially, it will be a boomrang, it will come right back at you."
With all the expectations attached to a rookie quarterback trying to slot his name aside from Joe Namath, Sanchez passed his first test. Sanchez is likely to face struggles as does every other rookie quarterback, but Ryan knows that if Sanchez is himself, the rookie is "going to handle everything."
Jets sign 17 undrafted free agents
In addition to the 3 draft choices from last week, the Jets announced they have signed the following undrafted free agents:
TE J'Nathan Bullock (Cleveland State/Flint, MI/6-5/240), P T.J. Conley (Idaho/Walla Walla, WA/6-3/220), S Emanuel Cook (South Carolina/Riviera Beach, FL/5-10/214), TE/LS Andrew Davie (Arkansas/Little Rock, AR/6-6/275), WR Britt Davis (Northern Illinois/Broadview, IL/6-3/205), S Keith Fitzhugh (Mississippi State/Lovejoy, GA/5-11/205), DT Matt Kroul (Iowa/Mount Vernon, IA/6-3/281), OL Kyle Link (McNeese State/Lake Charles, LA/6-6/300), OT Ryan McKee (So. Mississippi/Spanish Fort, AL/6-6/291), TE Rob Myers (Utah State/Houston, TX/6-4/240), C Michael Parenton (Tulane/Thibodaux, LA/6-2/287), QB Chris Pizzotti (Harvard/Reading, MA/6-5/225), DE Zach Potter (Nebraska/Omaha, NE/6-7/280), FB Brannan Southerland (Georgia/Dacula, GA/6-0/244), DL Ty Steinkuhler (Nebraska/Lincoln, NE/6-3/280), OT Tavita Thompson (Oregon State/Honolulu, HI/6-5/309) and DE Jamaal Westerman (Rutgers/Brampton, Ontario/6-3/265).
Bullock was a basketball forward at Cleveland State, scoring 1,800 career points in 130 games. He played high school football in Flint, MI.
Conley, a Walter Camp first-team All-America selection, finished his senior year at Idaho with a 47.4 punting average on 58 punts to lead the NCAA.
Cook is a safety that earned All-Southeastern Conference honors all three years he played at South Carolina.
Davie, a former minor league baseball player in the Cardinalsf system who was drafted in the 32nd round in the 2001 Major League Baseball draft, caught 24 passes for 199 yards and six touchdowns in his collegiate career. Davis finished his career fifth on the NIU all-time charts for career catches with 146 and totaled 1,676 career receiving yards, 2,063 all-purpose yards and nine career touchdowns.
Fitzhugh played in 48 games over four years, grabbing six interceptions and adding eight pass breakups.
Kroul started a record 50 games at Iowa, logging 238 tackles, 19.5 tackles-for-loss, seven sacks and one interception.
Link started his collegiate career as a tight end before converting to offensive tackle as a junior. He did not allow a sack as a senior.
McKee started three consecutive seasons at right tackle as the Golden Eagles surpassed the schoolfs record for total offense each season.
Myers caught 31 passes for 445 yards and three touchdowns in two seasons.
Parenton started 46 games for the Green Wave, spending last year at center after playing left guard as a junior, center as a sophomore and right guard as a freshman.
Pizzotti, a two-time All-Ivy League QB, finished his career with 5,675 yards passing, 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Potter, a two-time Honorable Mention All-Big 12 choice, played in 50 games for Nebraska, starting 24, logging 96 tackles, 28 for loss and eight sacks.
Steinkuhler, a 2008 Honorable-Mention All-Big 12 coachesf choice, finished his career with 88 tackles, three sacks and 17 tackles-for-loss. He is the son of legendary Nebraska and NFL offensive lineman Dean Steinkuhler.
Southerland finished with 171 yards and 17 touchdowns rushing, and 35 catches for 289 yards with six touchdowns in his career as a blocking fullback.
Thompson started at left tackle as a junior and right tackle as a senior.
Westerman totaled 141 tackles and 26 sacks in four years at Rutgers.
The Jets offered tryouts to the following undrafted free agents and will announce after the minicamp if they decide to sign any of them:
Kevin Akins S Boston College , Lance Brandenburgh LB Nebraska , Gary Cismesia K Florida State, Manny Collins CB Rutgers, George Covington LB Maryland, Casey Dick QB Arkansas, Anthony Harris DT/LS Western New Mexico, Josh Hunt NT Eastern Michigan, Craig Kobel LB South Florida, Ottis Lewis WR Hofstra, Kenny O'Neal WR Florida State, Allen Patrick RB Oklahoma, Jack Simmons TE Minnesota, Sean Smalls CB Massachusetts, Brian Toal LB Boston College, Stephen Valenta OL Cornell
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