Jets tight end Konrad Reuland remembers a time when Mark Sanchez couldn’t go to a PG-13 movie, didn’t shave and got nervous around girls.
In the eyes of Reuland, who knows Sanchez better than anyone else on this team, his teammate and the friend won’t be shaken easily — even after getting benched this week. The two grew up together in Mission Viejo, Calif. Reuland and Sanchez first met on a middle school basketball team and became friends. From there, Reuland transferred to Sanchez’s high school. Their friendship lasted through college and continues now as teammates.
It was Reuland who was there for his Sanchez in what he would only call “a talk we both knew needed to happen.”
“Needless to say he’s going through a rough time right now. In practice, he’s been contributing, not sulking. [He is] holding his head up high. There’s a lot of adversity he’s going through right now and it isn’t easy to go through something like this so publicly,” Reuland said.
“He understands the business. I think he’s in a better place than people think. He’s got the right frame of mind and he’s looking to get better. I think he’s a very resilient guy and he’s gone through a lot in his career, his life in general. He’s going to bounce back I think. He just needs the right people around him.”
It has been a season of regression for Sanchez and the 6-8 Jets, who have struggled offensively throughout the year. While he was pulled from the 7-6 win over the Cardinals three weeks ago in favor of Greg McElroy, the final straw was this past Monday night against the Titans. Sanchez threw four interceptions and had a hand in all five Jets turnovers in a 14-10 loss that knocked them out of contention for the playoffs.
Those close to Sanchez said in times like this, he will internalize his emotions. It is this trait that drives Jets fans nuts. When watching a postgame press conference following a loss, they see a quarterback who shrugs off questions and seems devoid of emotion. But this is part of how he deals with pressure and the lack of emotion from the podium is the byproduct of him mentally working through the situation.
Above all, he goes to his parents and his brothers for encouragement and advice.
“I’m not going to make excuses. At the end of the day, no matter what kind of situation you’re in, the quarterback has the ball and it’s my job to make good decisions with the football, regardless of personnel situations, who is in the quarterback room, that stuff, I’m not going to go there,” Sanchez said. “Is every interception the quarterback’s fault? Of course not, but they’re attributed to the quarterback. It goes as my stat and you live with that. You own up to your side of the mistakes and you move on.”
Much has been expected of Sanchez since his arrival in 2009 when the Jets traded up to make him the No. 5 selection in the NFL Draft. Success came earl,y as he learned to manage the game and make consecutive AFC Championship game appearances in his first two years in the league. But in his third year, he was given more responsibility in the Jets offense and the team fell to 8-8.
Then came this year’s clear step back. After nearly four years with the Jets, it is becoming apparent that he isn’t developing into an upper-echelon quarterback, the type that would be expected from a player taken in the top five of the draft. Even more damning is he isn’t making anyone around him better.
“Physically speaking, he has an incredible skill-set,” Reuland said. “I don’t know for sure what happened [this year] but he isn’t playing with the same confidence. I know he can get it back. He’s had to bounce back from a lot mentally and I think he can do that. I know he can. This offseason is huge for him.”
But every offseason has been pinpointed as a big one for Sanchez, who likely will finish the season with more interceptions than touchdowns for the second time in his career. He has never completed more than 60 percent of his passes during an NFL season and over the past two years he is 14-16 as the starter.
Even Reuland acknowledged the need to go with McElroy.
“I think he deserves it as well; he deserves the shot. But you feel for a guy like Mark who is handling this well. That’s one thing I can say about Mark is that he’s a class act,” Reuland said. “I commend him for that. He’s out there, cheering on Greg, helping guys on the sidelines. The key for him now is to have an incredible offseason.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.