In his first two seasons as the New York Jets starting quarterback, Mark Sanchez helped the Jets reach the AFC title game. Many believed he was the quarterback of the future but with a poor 2011 season, those same believers have become Sanchez’s toughest critics. The quarterback position is without question the most important position on a football team. Sanchez will have to play well this season to keep Jets fans from completely turning on him. Can Mark Sanchez be the franchise quarterback that the Jets drafted him to be or will he falter and ultimately be replaced.
There are necessary points to be noted about the career of Mark Sanchez. Since his rookie season Sanchez has improved in every passing category, threw for career high 26 touchdowns and has been to the playoffs in two of his first three seasons. Having only had one true college season as a starter, Sanchez entered the NFL as a raw talent. We have seen Sanchez compete a high level and win games, this season we must see him do it consistently. A big point to be noted about Sanchez, particularly this off-season, is his ability to handle criticism/negativity with the poise and composure of a true professional.
In years one and two not much was asked of Sanchez by the Jets coaching staff. Sanchez’s roll was simple… Manage the offense, keep possession (no turnovers) and let the defense win games. The scheme was successful and so were Jets. In Sanchez’s third season, former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer opened up the playbook for Sanchez and leaned on him to do more. Schottenheimer seemed to be preparing Sanchez for a new league that has become pass friendly. Many Jets critics believed that the play calling and direction that Schottenheimer wanted to go in was a big reason for the Jets struggles. Whether or not the new direction was the reason the Jets struggled and Schotty was ultimately let go, remains speculation.
Sanchez struggled last season to score necessary points when the Jets were in need. He had a completion percentage of 56.7 which ranked among the worst in the league. With the defense taking a step back from two tremendous seasons in 2009 and 2010, (still a great 2011 campaign) the Jets needed Sanchez to step up and put points on the board in spots. He failed to do so. In five of the Jets losses a season ago, the offense failed to score more than 17 points.
Total blame should not fall completely on the shoulders of Sanchez and/or Schottenheimer. The Jets offensive line had a poor 2011 campaign. They struggled to protect Sanchez, had him running for cover and taking brutal hits from opposing defenses. Schottenheimer and head coach Rex Ryan failed to communicate as to what they wanted to do offensively. Schottenheimer’s emphasis was on throwing the ball down field while Ryan wanted to keep a ground and pound mentality. The lack of communication between the two was certainly a cause of struggles.
This year will be the first time in Sanchez’s career where he will see legitimate competition for his starting position. This off-season the Jets acquired Tim Tebow to be their back-up quarterback. A season ago the NFL was amazed by Tebow’s success, leading the Denver Broncos to a playoff victory. If Sanchez struggles, look for the Jets faithful to put pressure on the organization and coaching staff to give Tebow a shot as the starter.
The media, teammates and fans have questioned Sanchez’s leadership and toughness. Thus far, this offseason, things have not looked good for Sanchez. He and the Jets offense have failed to score a touchdown in three preseason games, the offensive line has continued to struggle and it seems that Jets fan as becoming increasingly impatient.
Personally I can’t make a decision on Sanchez quite yet. This fourth season will tell all about Sanchez and his future with the Jets. With rookie and second year quarterbacks playing at an extremely high level, this season is do or die for Sanchez. If he struggles like he did a season ago, I see the Jets moving forward without him. Eli Manning won a Superbowl title in his fourth season with the Giants, look for Sanchez to try and emulate Eli’s 2007 campaign.
There comes a point in time when a quarterback takes the next step in his career. He shows total command and knowledge of the offense. He has confidence in his throws and makes everyone around him better. The top quarterbacks all posses these abilities. In 2012 Sanchez must take that next step. It is time for him to show up and prove to his teammates, the media, fans but most importantly HIMSELF, that he has what it takes to be GREAT!