The buzz surrounding New York Jets minicamp is palpable. With a heated quarterback race dominating headlines, the coaching staff is no closer to naming the team's starter.
The must see contest between Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith will be one of the toughest decisions Rex Ryan will have to make since he took over the head coaching job back in 2009. He will either have to try to start fresh with his rookie gunslinger or entrust a faltering fifth year signal-caller to find his groove.
Ryan has attempted everything to make Sanchez take charge of the offense; including making him captain prior to the 2011 season and refusing to pull the plug on him last season despite his immense struggles. Sanchez is starting to become comfortable with the offense and believes the team is improving with preseason right around the corner.
"I think this is right where we're supposed to be," Sanchez said. "We're starting to turn the corner there where we're starting to be a little sharper, certainly anticipate some things and understand some of what-ifs of each play and not just the perfect look. I think we're doing well."
Sanchez is coming into camp with a lot to prove. The most important concern for No. 6 and the Jets is the quarterback's decision-making in the pocket. Last season he had 26 turnovers, with 18 of them by way of the interception. At times Sanchez was careless with ball and his bad habits ultimately cost the Jets a chance at the playoffs during a Week 15 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
"I think it's been more prevalent in this offseason just because of putting a new system, working against a new defense, working against exotic looks, having a lot of young guys play, there's a few miscommunications out there," admitted Sanchez. "So when that happens, just get rid of it, dirt it and move on to the next play."
While the Jets quarterback competition and a new offensive system have dominated the public's attention, the shortage of healthy wide receivers during minicamp is a cause for concern. The Jets have been without Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley, and Clyde Gates due to injury. This has given Sanchez and Smith inexperienced players to throw to during camp.
The Jets are also without last year's starting tight end since Dustin Keller signed with the Miami Dolphins in March. Luckily, the organization invited familiar NFL names such as tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker to minicamp tryouts.
"When you don't have them out there, you just have to do the best job you can with the guys you have and I think they've done a great job of stepping up," said Sanchez on the lack of depth at wideout. "There are guys that nobody has heard of that have really made a name for themselves in these camps. We've come up with some funny nicknames for some of them because you don't even know their names and they're just in there. But that's all part of the deal and it makes it fun."
The only notable receiver who is healthy for the Jets is Ben Obomanu. He was signed by the Jets in May when the injuries began to become an issue.
Of course, the health of his wide receivers is not Sanchez's biggest worry, he still has to win the starting quarterback job. Smith is breathing down his neck and is already showing he belongs in the NFL
"I think Geno is doing a great job," mentioned Sanchez . "I think he's working hard. He's studying and really doing his best."
Whoever emerges as the front runner in the competition is going to have to impress newly hired offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. He is coming to Gang Green after spending six seasons under Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles. Mornhinweg has been strict with the offense, but it seems like the players respond to him and work hard.
"I just feel comfortable," noted Sanchez of Mornhinweg's West Coast style offense. "I feel like this is the kind of coordinator and system that puts you in a good spot. I think Marty's real intent is to get us to really understand what he's talking about, exactly what he wants us to do, listen to him every detail and go make it happen."
Sanchez knows there is a lot of doubt about whether he can regain his confidence and swagger. Even Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young has criticized Sanchez saying he saw him to be a broken-down quarterback.
"Just because you lose games, whether it's a few games in a row over a couple of seasons, regardless of circumstances, personnel issues, things like that, your confidence doesn't change," said Sanchez. "If we're going out to play another game, I'm expecting to win. Nothing changes, no matter who's out there, no matter who's on my team or their team, I'm going to go win."
Sanchez has not seen this type of adversity since his rookie season when he won over the starting position over Kellen Clemens. Sanchez is trying to prove himself and worked hard during the offseason with former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia, who played under Mornhinweg. The Jets hope to return to a playoff caliber team, but they will need to see Sanchez or Smith take charge of the offense and lead the team. It's NoW or never FOR Sanchez if he hopes to show he deserves to be under center for the Green and White.