Sanchez Drives Toward Second Year

Mark Sanchez returns from a promising rookie campaign a more complete and accomplished quarterback after leading his team within one game of the Super Bowl.

Cortland, NY - It's been a busy off-season for Jets' quarterback Mark Sanchez what with dating a television starlet and presenting at the Tony Awards. But as the Jets' quarterback heads into the off-season as the clear-cut starter of the team, his confidence is showing on and off the field. During the team's OTA sessions and mini-camp, several of his teammates pointed to Sanchez as one of the team's leaders, despite this being just his second season in the league.

Sanchez was active if rusty on Monday morning when the Jets opened camp at SUNY Cortland.

"It's about owning this team, making it your team," Sanchez told reporters after the first morning session. "That's why we have guys here like Mark Brunell – to help with that - who's done that before - to help me step-up and really make that big jump my sophomore year."

The Jets signed Brunell, an 18-year veteran in the league, to help guide Sanchez and help take him to the next level. In his last two games of the regular season last year, both wins, and through the three-game run through the playoffs, Sanchez threw just three interceptions. The correlation between mistake-free football and winning has sunk with the quarterback.

As Sanchez sees it, his comfort with the offense and the playbook in his second year will help cut back those mistakes.

"It's nice when you're not scrambling as you go up to the line - in your head trying to figure out the formation, the call, the protection," Sanchez said. "[Now] you say it in the huddle and you know it right there and you're focusing now on the defense."

Sanchez and Brunnel shared an almost three-hour trip from North Jersey to upstate New York on Sunday afternoon to check-into camp. During that time, Brunell said that the two players talked and shared stories, background and insight. It wasn't all football, according to the veteran quarterback, who said he was impressed with what he saw.

"He's a young guy, hard working. Enormous potential. He seems to do everything right," Brunell said about the player he's going to mentor.

His teammates are seeing the difference as well.

The man charged with watching the player's blindside, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, said that he has seen the difference in the quarterback. Last year, as a rookie, Sanchez was uncertain as he battled Kellen Clemens for the starting quarterback position. This year, Ferguson sees a signal-caller who has stepped up to the challenge.

"I definitely think you can see the year under his belt," Ferguson said. "His progress right now is where it needs to be."

He was a bit rusty as Monday morning was his most extensive practice session since last season as he continues to work his way back from off-season knee surgery. Sanchez was held out of 11 on 11 drills for much of the team's OTA sessions and mini-camp. This off-season, he said he's strengthened his knee and his entire body in anticipation of avoiding a sophomore jinx.

"If you look at him physically you know the GQ shots compared then to now - he's a different guy. He looks good," head coach Rex Ryan said. "He's taking care of himself physically and the thing I'm most impressed with is his mental preparation. He is way ahead of where he was last year."

Sanchez said that he hopes to "soak up" the experience of playing with and being mentored by Brunell this season as he looks to continue the progress that was evidenced at the end of last season and through the playoffs. Brunell laughingly said that there is a "very good chance" that he will get sick of Sanchez pestering, but he's enjoying the journey so far. Brunell could only point to one thing about the young quarterback so far that may add grey hairs to a head that turns 40 years old this September. Sanchez's driving, it seems, left Brunell clutching the handlebar in the second-year quarterback's SUV.

"We were running late," Brunell said about the trip to check-in on Sunday. "We made up about 45 minutes."

Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at and followed at

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