(Photo courtesy of Mark Sanchez’s official Facebook page)
When the New York Jets drafted Mark Sanchez with the fifth pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, I was ecstatic.
Finally, a franchise quarterback in Green and White.
There were some detractors, of course. They would point to his inexperience as a starter in college, among other things. Even his former college coach, current Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, said he was making a mistake leaving school early.
Two years later, Sanchez has led the Jets to two consecutive AFC Championship games, with a 4-2 record, 9 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions, and a 94.3 passer rating in six road playoff games in some of the toughest environments imaginable.
No question about it, Mark Sanchez is a big game quarterback. I knew that after watching his dismantling of Penn State in his final collegiate game at the 2009 Rose Bowl, in which he completed 28 of 35 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns.
But to see the 24-year-old Sanchez set up his Jets West camp this past week speaks to the level of leadership he brings to the table.
Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post wrote a great piece Sunday about what Sanchez has done at camp this week that fans may not have seen, and it speaks to the natural leadership he brings to the table.
The lights were down, the movie screen was illuminated with a list of plays and the roomful of players, equipped with their playbooks, was at attention.
“Dustin, you need to run this route shallower on this play.”
“LaDainian, this is where you’ll be on blitz pick-up.”
“Brad, this is where you need to be to clear out this area.”
It all seemed normal except for who was conducting the meeting and where it was taking place.
This wasn’t Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer breaking down film for his players and the meeting wasn’t taking place inside the team’s state-of-the-art Florham Park N.J. facility.
This was Mark Sanchez conducting it with a number of his skill-position teammates inside the Mission Viejo High School football office, which can be best described as a large trailer cramped with a few desks, chairs and a couch.
This was Sanchez doing what he always has done in football — lead. Sanchez always has wanted to take charge. It’s in his DNA. This is what he does.
Bob Johnson, Sanchez’s football coach at Mission Viejo, has seen this before.
“He had it here and he had it at USC,” Johnson said, sitting at his desk in the football office shortly before Sanchez and his teammates arrived for their chalk talk and practice to follow. “He has that kind of power and influential say-so. I don’t know how many teams have this kind of leadership power at the top. To pull this kind of thing off is awesome.”
“Just assuming command,” Sanchez said, matter-of-factly. “I’m leading this entire group along with coach Rex [Ryan]. When Rex can’t be with them, I’m the guy. I’m the coach on the field. It’s my job to coordinate things like this. I want to take this to the next level and become more than just the quarterback on the field.”
“If this helps us win one more game, get one playoff game at home, then it’s really paid off,” Sanchez said.
“Mark is the man,” [tight end Dustin] Keller said. “Everybody knows it. There’s no denying that. To get the turnout he has out here is amazing. It shows what the type of leader Mark is that he can get an LT to come out there. … This is a recipe for success. This gives us a step up on other teams that aren’t doing the same thing.”
Sanchez has been everything the Jets have asked him to be, and then some. Typically, quarterbacks take a big leap in their third seasons in the league. Hopefully, the preparation that Sanchez has put in will help him be more consistent in the regular season and help the Jets get a home playoff game, if there is a season at all, of course.