Whether he likes it or not, Mark Sanchez will have some heated competition this summer as he vies for the New York Jets starting quarterback job. Entering his fifth season in the NFL, Sanchez is approaching a crossroads in his career; a time that will either build or break the 26-year-old gunslinger. With the Jets nabbing West Virginia signal-caller Geno Smith at No.39 overall in April's draft, Sanchez is well aware of the test ahead of him.
"It's my job to roll with whatever happens and play the cards I'm dealt," noted Sanchez. "John Idzik is trying to field the best football team he can. He feels like Geno (Smith) should be a part of that team and that's fine. Now, I'm going to compete with Geno and see who's the starter".
Last March former general manager Mike Tannenbaum swung a trade for Tim Tebow to jump-start a Jets' Wildcat attack that sputtered since wide receiver Brad Smith signed with the Buffalo Bills following the 2011 season. Outside of media speculation, Sanchez's starting spot was never in true jeopardy, but his poor play led to his late season benching and brought into question No. 6's mental toughness.
This time around, the Jets have recruited a legitimate threat to usurp Sanchez's starting role under center; creating open quarterback competition for the first time in the Rex Ryan era. Newly hired general manager John Idzik is implementing his blueprint for success by urging competition across all roster spots.
"It's one of those situations where there's a challenge for something that I hold very dear to my heart," said Sanchez of his quarterback battle." Something that has really been my life's goal, to play on this level and being a starting quarterback. When somebody challenges you that way, it really brings out your best and I don't see it being any different."
Center Nick Mangold told reporters earlier this week that "there is a different air" about Sanchez this year and he seems to be handling the quarterback controversy in a mature and poised manner.
"He just sees how focused I am," mentioned Sanchez on Mangold's comments. "He's seen me lead the fourth-quarter comebacks, he's seen me help win playoff games. He knows that's what I want, that's what I want for our team. He also knows what it takes to get there and what we had, those veteran teams with top-notch talent, (which) competed hard to get to those positions. We didn't just roll out of bed and end up in the AFC Championship game. I think he just sees a more focused version of me. A guy whose excited and not shying away from competition, I never have, it's not in my makeup."
With the Jets officially releasing Tebow, Sanchez took the time to reflect on the three-ring circus that ensued upon his arrival and talked about his relationship with the world's most famous back-up quarterback.
"We both competed with our best, tried to be the best of friends we could, and honestly under different circumstances we would be really good friends, it's just hard when you're competing like that," said Sanchez. There's just a professionalism about it that you don't get too close to guys like that. You're just professional, and you're cool and if the guy has a flat tire on the side of the road, I'm going to stop, I'm not just going to blow by him, but at the same time, I'm not sending him gifts on his birthday or anything."
Last year was anything but a celebration for the Jets as they stumbled to a 6-10 record, littered with drama and distractions along the way. A new front office regime, headed by Idzik, is looking to turn the page to the 2013 season; overhauling the roster and coaching staff to bring a renewed sense of hope to fans. Sanchez is embracing the team's new philosophy with training camp just around the corner.
"It falls right in line with what John Idzik talked about, bringing in competition at every position, said Sanchez. "But it also marries up with everything I've been about my whole life whether it was in high school, college or making it to the NFL level, competing with other players and earning everything you receive in this league. Nothing is just given. You have to compete to earn it, so it will be fun."