It was only one practice during organized team activities, one that took place almost two months before training camp is scheduled to open for the New York Jets. But if any quarterback ever needed to establish himself as the man to beat for the job during OTAs, it was Mark Sanchez. And the Jets' fourth-year veteran did exactly that when he clearly outplayed ever-popular backup Tim Tebow during the team's first practice this year in front of the media.
Sanchez, whose grip on the starting job went from ironclad when he signed an extension March 9 to tenuous when the Jets acquired Tebow 12 days later, looked sharp during drills and threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill. Tebow, meanwhile, threw a pair of interceptions in a three-pass sequence during 7-on-7 drills and spent time as a punt protector on special teams.
The Jets didn't run any plays out of the Wildcat, which is where Tebow is expected to get most of his time on offense-at least initially. The Jets have maintained all offseason that Sanchez is their unquestioned starter, but considering how badly he struggled for much of last year and the spark Tebow gave the Denver Broncos when he took over for Kyle Orton after five games and helped them to the AFC semifinals, Sanchez can't afford a slip-up, no matter how early in the season (or offseason) it is.
"His popularity draws a lot of (attention)," Sanchez told reporters in reference to Tebow. "But at the same time I wouldn't be in this position if I couldn't handle it. I'm prepared for it. It's a new experience but I have plenty to draw on-ups and downs, highs and lows of seasons and understanding this thing is a marathon, not a (sprint) and (knowing) not to get caught up in who completed what ball and who didn't."
Tebow admitted he was unhappy with the interceptions he threw to Bart Scott and Yeremiah Bell but said he was confident he wouldn't make such throws once he's had more practice time under his belt.
"Both of those plays, it was the first time I ran them," Tebow said, "I'll learn from it and honestly, it won't bother me again. When you make a bad play, put it behind you and move on, and I feel like I did. I went out there the next team period and felt like I did OK, so again you just have to remember where you are and what you are doing."
That included spending plenty of time on special teams. Coach Rex Ryan lived up to his proclamation that Tebow will see snaps at a variety of positions by lining him up as a punt protector, where he'll either become the most famous last line of defense for a punter ever or allow the Jets to employ a little trickery.
"They're going to line up and they're going to come after Tebow," Ryan said. "I can tell you one guy that's not afraid of it and that's Tim Tebow. And I'm not afraid of it either. What he can help us with, being that personal protector on the punt team, is 'Are you sure you really want to rush that punt?' If it is fourth-and-six or seven, are you sure you really want to rush it, because we may fake it."