- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Mark Sanchez and his return from the Jets bench has gone well this week, offensive coordinator Tony Sparano said, in part because the quarterback isn't pretending that it's business as usual.
"I wouldn't say (he's) the same guy, no," Sparano said. "He understands what happened. He understands the magnitude of what happened. All that said, does he approach practice differently? No. He's approached practice as a professional every single day he's been in this building."
Standing on the sideline and holding the clipboard while third-string player Greg McElroy put on his helmet against the Cardinals was a low point for Sanchez. Getting the nod this week -- after a grueling 48-hour waiting period as Jets coach Rex Ryan polled others in the organization -- wasn't a stirring vote of confidence.
But it's a clear opportunity, and one Sanchez, 26, will have to grab if he wants to remain the outright owner of the starter's title.
"Mark has a lot of pride in his work and I think he has unbelievable passion for this game and a tremendous work ethic," Sparano said. "So I think when you put those things together its a good combination for a young player. And he is a young player; we lose sight of that fact sometimes."
Still some in the fan base have grown tired of watching Sanchez throw interceptions -- 13 so far this season -- and one particularly devastating one on the first Jets possession of the Cardinals game, into the hands of Kerry Rhodes.
So what goes through Sparano's mind when he watches Sanchez do that?
"The initial thought is usually, should it have gone there?" Sparano said. "Did it go in the right spot where the football should? Should it have gone there? And Mark has told you that, Rex has told you that, the answer to that on play one is no."
Sparano most likely will not have Tim Tebow dressed at the backup this week in Jacksonville, meaning that the 15 or 20 option/wildcat plays that the Jets draw up for the No. 2 are off the table.
"Having Tim on the sideline gives us another weapon and is something that when you don't have him out there, you lose that part of your game plan," Sparano said.
Instead, Sparano will have McElroy ready to jump in the moment Sanchez falters. Last week, Sparano was the one to deliver the news to Sanchez that he was coming out of the game after his third interception. It wasn't easy, but Sparano had practice.
"I've had to cut 100 players, I've had to fire coaches," Sparano said. "I've had to make those kinds of decisions. And in every one of those instances isn't just this 'Hey buddy you're gone. See ya.' You don't come off like that.
"It's a sensitive thing, and you understand the magnitude of it at the time. And you understand how much time these kids put in and time they spend at it. How much they really do want to be good at it -- (it's) not different from a coach. And you have to think about the delivery and how to go about it. And that's something that fortunately or unfortunately I've had experience with it."