- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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The lines are drawn with the New York Jets after the team opened a five-way quarterback competition this offseason involving Mark Sanchez, David Garrard, Greg McElroy, Matt Simms and rookie Geno Smith. The Jets returned to work this week after New York invested a high second-round pick on Smith, whom many feel is the No. 1 quarterback in this year's draft.
With all that said, Sanchez remains the favorite because he is the incumbent. Sanchez ended last season as the starter and the job will have to be taken away from him this summer. Sanchez also is a favorite of Jets coach Rex Ryan, who remained loyal -- sometimes to a fault -- to Sanchez over the years. But Ryan's loyalty is no longer enough for the fifth-year quarterback.
These are different times under Jets first-year general manager John Idzik. Sanchez must produce consistently on the practice field and in preseason games to convince the Jets that he’s the best quarterback on the roster.
Sanchez has played well at times (back-to-back AFC title games) and poorly for long stretches (most of 2012 season). One of the biggest difference-makers for Sanchez is his confidence. That is why it’s encouraging Thursday when Sanchez said he has "no doubt" he is New York’s No. 1 quarterback. Sanchez is confidently embracing this competition, not shying away from it.
"There's a little fire going and that's good," said Sanchez, according to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com. "I'm cool with that. I think it's good for everybody."
The only way Sanchez keeps his job is if he gets back to the "Sanchize" swagger from New York’s playoff seasons in 2009 and 2010. The past two years Sanchez looked mostly confused and defeated. He is most recently known for last season's "butt fumble" play on Thanksgiving against the New England Patriots.
One of the biggest criticism of the Jets and former general manager Mike Tannenbaum is they never provided legit competition for Sanchez. Backups like Mark Brunell, McElroy and Tim Tebow never had the chance to unseat Sanchez, who perhaps got too comfortable in New York’s offense. But Idzik has no connection to Sanchez and is bringing in as much competition as possible. Sanchez must beat out four players simultaneously for the first time in his career.
"Whether it's Simms, McElroy, David or Geno, all those guys want to play, and that’s natural for a quarterback to want to play," Sanchez told reporters. "It's different than a guard, tackle, receiver, defensive tackle, because there’s only one. So we’re competing for one spot. We’re friendly about it. But at the same time it’s a fierce competition. ... The best guy will play."
Sanchez has the inside track despite past struggles. But Sanchez must change his mentality in 2013 from the previously entitled quarterback to a hungry and confident quarterback. And it appears Sanchez is heading in that direction based on his early comments.