Let me preface this article by saying there is no quarterback controversy for the New York Jets. This isn’t an article meant to argue what Mark Sanchez needs to do to hold off Tim Tebow from being the starting quarterback because barring injury, Sanchez will be under center week 1 versus Buffalo. This is an article looking at what constitues a productive pre-season for Sanchez as the Jets starting quarterback working in a non-Brian Schottenheimer NFL offense for the first time in his career.
Sanchez is in the difficult situation of working with a makeshift group of receivers while he tries to master this new offense. One of the many mistakes the Jets have made while attempting to develop their young quarterback has been constantly changing his top three wide receivers. Here is who he had the past three years prior to week 1 -
2009 – Jerricho Cotchery, Chansi Stuckey, Brad Smith
2010 – Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, Brad Smith (Santonio Holmes was suspended until week 4)
2011 - Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Derrick Mason (aka grumpy old men)
This year the presumed top three receivers are Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley. Unfortunately, Holmes and Kerley are hurt and out for tomorrow night. Kerley also no longer has a stranglehold on the number three position because of a poor off-season. Sanchez will be playing his first pre-season game with a top three of Hill (a rookie), Patrick Turner (8 career receptions), and Chaz Schilens (72 receptions through 4 years).
Look for Sanchez to frequently target tight end Dustin Keller, the pass catcher he has the best chemistry with. Backup tight end/H-Back Josh Baker should also be a big part of the offense while the receivers get their legs under them.
The most important thing always for Sanchez is protecting the football. With the type of style the Jets are playing this year, he must cut down on interceptions and fumbles. If he can get through this pre-season with no turnovers or maybe only one, it would be a success.
However, Sanchez also must press down the field. Tony Sparano will give him his opportunities. Sanchez needs to develop a fast chemistry with Hill and Schilens, both of whom are vertical threats. Despite frequently being criticized for his arm strength, Sanchez has shown good deep ball accuracy throughout his career. It would be nice to see him convert on a few 20+ yard passing plays, which the Jets barely had any of last season.
Finally, the Jets right tackle situation remains a question mark. Austin Howard will start for Wayne Hunter tomorrow night. Whether it is Hunter or Howard, Sanchez is going to see pressure at times and needs to demonstrate pocket awareness. No more keeping the ball at his waist and having it stripped away, no more panicked checkdowns thrown high to his running back that are intercepted.
The Jets won’t be airing it out in any of their pre-season games but that doesn’t mean Sanchez can’t make a strong impression about his improvement this off-season.