FLORHAM PARK, NJ — How does one define a leader on a football team? Is it by his performance on the field? The touchdowns. The down-the-field vision. The evasion of would-be sackers. Or is it by how he conducts himself off-the-field? Being a selfless teammate. Working hard in the weight room. Putting in that extra time on off-days. Staying out of the tabloids.
The Jets third-year quarterback may not have achieved his full potential on the field (yet), but at 24-years-old Mark Sanchez not only has accepted his role as a leader but embodied the term to the fullest.
“Whatever it takes to win,” Sanchez told reporters at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Facility at Florham Park, NJ on Tuesday. “If it’s throwing the ball left-handed and that’s what’ll make us win, fine I’ll throw it left-handed. It doesn’t matter, we need to win.”
That perfect answer was in response to the question of whether he is willing to re-structure his contract to allow the Jets front office more salary cap flexibility in order to re-sign free agent receivers Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards among others. Sanchez signed a 5-year $50 million contract in 2009 with $28 million in guarantees. He is due to make $14.5 million in 2011, $8.5 in 2012 and $4 million in 2013. But are those reports really true?
“Absolutely, and my agent’s already talked to me about it. Whatever we need to do to win, it’s on. I think our whole team feels that way. If it’s [Darrelle] Revis, me, whoever — it doesn’t matter. So, we’ll do whatever we can,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez may not have left USC early (although he did receive his diploma in Spring 2009: thanks Chris), but he certainly understands the importance of Edwards and Holmes to his own and his team’s success.
“It was such a luxury to have both of them last year. It’s almost unrealistic to have that kind of receiving corps again. But whichever guys we get back, it’s going to be them playing really well and me getting even better, upping my completion percentage, being more accurate, throwing less interceptions — more touchdowns, things like that,” he said.
Bettering himself and the team was his hope when Sanchez hosted the second stint of “Jets West” camp outside of his Mission Viejo, CA home. He conducted his first off-sight receiving camp last season, but this year might have been even more successful. During a lockout-induced off-season in which players were scared of injuring themselves and not being insured by teams or hurting potential contracts it would be understandable if players didn’t show. Yet Edwards, Holmes, Brad Smith and the rest of the skill position players showed up to show support for their team and newly respected leader, Sanchez.
“Jets West” as well as their “Camp Lockout” workouts in Farleigh Dickinson University, which was open to both offensive and defensive players, have been pivotal to this team in a time where there has been little to no team activities amongst NFL teams.
But whether if it’s been taking steps in improving his game or his maturation as a leader, Sanchez has made sure to not skip anything on his path to becoming an NFL elite quarterback.
“Something I did this past year was stay close to the facility, especially during the playoffs,” Sanchez said. “Especially on a Tuesday night, you’re off on Tuesday and we come in and having a meeting at night and then stay right here either at [Nick] Mangold’s house or [Mark] Brunell’s house. It really helped me focus for that week. We inevitably had our best games in the playoffs. That was one of those things that we found in my routine last year and it could be something that easy.”
But being a leader is not just setting the pace for your team, but realizing that — even as a leader — there is still room for improvement. There still may be a lot of room left, but Sanchez doesn’t shy away from it. In fact, he embraces it.”There are specific plays where I just missed a couple of guys that were wide open and that can’t happen. It’s my third year coming up, that’s where I need to get better,” Sanchez said.
Embracing his imperfections and realizing the areas where improvement is necessary. Even if he is a mere 24-years-old, Mark Sanchez is truly a leader of this team.
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