It would have been easy for Mark Sanchez to have packed it in with a fan base that has turned on him and a franchise seemingly ready to move on.
After all, Sanchez was the Jets’ highly touted first-round pick in 2009. After being anointed as starter almost immediately over Kellen Clemens, Sanchez seemed ready to take the next step heading into his third year in the league. But instead, he has struggled the past two years and when the Jets took Geno Smith in the second round this past April, no one would have blamed him for going through the motions.
Instead, Sanchez is not only competing to maintain his grip on the starting job but he’s being a good teammate, trying to help Smith mature and develop.
“I’ve competed my whole life, whether it was high school or college, beating out other quarterbacks, [including] my first year here playing with Kellen. That’s all I’ve known. It’s nothing new or scary. I’m being myself, doing my best and keep doing what I’m doing,” Sanchez said. “It doesn’t bother me. I’m apathetic to it.”
But what is most noticeable is that Sanchez has taken to the competition, not just for himself but also in mentoring Smith. He’s been helping the rookie in acclimating to the NFL.
“Mark has taken to helping Geno, being a real teammate to him,” one team source told Metro. “It is pretty noble actually. He is helping him on the field, in the classroom. It isn’t a show. He is helping him be the best he can be. I think in turn, that is making Mark confident because it is noticeable how much better he has a command of the offense. It is quite obvious.”
Smith needs the help as he comes to the Jets with a reputation as being lazy and not a tremendous classroom presence. A major reason why he dropped from a consensus Top-10 pick to No. 39 in the draft was his reputation off the field.
Right now, he is saying and doing the right things in the quarterback competition. Every day is a learning experience for Smith, even as he has struggled mightily.
“First of all, it is bringing it in practice — coming to practice ready to compete, coming to practice focused [and] taking advantage of every single rep, [including] the mental reps, even when I’m not in,” Smith said. “Obviously the coaches are going to do the grading but you have a knowledge of what you did good, what you did bad.”
Like Sanchez, Smith has embraced the open quarterback competition. While he has struggled during practice and looked out of sorts at times, he doesn’t sound like someone who feels entitled to the starting job.
“Every single day in practice we compete hard — not just in team periods but in walkthroughs. It is in individual periods. It is in everything. That’s the nature of the game,” Smith said. “It’s good to have a guy like Mark who is welcome to teaching me things. He is open to competition and great spirited about it.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.