Mark Sanchez is capable of a turnaround

June, 5, 2012
6/05/12
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Mark Sanchez and Eli ManningAP Photo/Bill KostrounMark Sanchez had more success in his first three seasons than Eli Manning did in his first three.
What if I said your team has a quarterback who's been to the AFC Championship Game twice in his first three seasons?

What if I also said this player has playoff wins over Tom Brady and Peyton Manning -- the two best quarterbacks of this generation?

What if I said this player is just 25 years old and about to enter the prime of his career?

What if I said the person I'm describing is New York Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez?

Surprised? Well, you shouldn't be.

Contrary to popular belief, Sanchez is not a lost cause. Some pundits have already pushed Sanchez out the door and claimed it's Tim Tebow's team. The Jets acquired the wildly popular quarterback in an offseason trade, but the move instead will bring out the best in Sanchez.

The Jets were wowed by Sanchez during the opening of organized team activities. He was stronger, accurate, more confident and clearly the best quarterback on the team. Sanchez looked like a player whose best years are still ahead of him.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez and Tim Tebow
Ed Mulholland/US PresswireBy most accounts, Mark Sanchez, left, outperformed Tim Tebow during OTAs last month.
"He's stronger than he's ever been," Jets coach Rex Ryan said of Sanchez. "He's in great shape. ... Obviously, he's going into his fourth year. He's seen a lot of different things, but that arm looks stronger to me. He's throwing the ball and really zipping it, throwing with touch and things. I really like the way he's throwing the football."

The media often harps on Sanchez's negatives. But let's take a look at the good things Sanchez brings to the table.

First and foremost, Sanchez is a winner. As I mentioned earlier, he's led the Jets to two AFC title games the past three seasons. That is something neither Brady nor Manning has accomplished in that same span. Sanchez is 4-2 in the playoffs and never had a losing season.

He also was 12-1 in his only full year as a starter at USC. Sanchez is used to winning and has done so at every level.

Sanchez is tough and durable. He's missed just one start in three years. Last season he took a pounding and was sacked a career-high 39 times without missing a game. Sanchez added extra muscle this offseason to withstand the pounding. With Tebow waiting for his shot, Sanchez does not want to get pulled due to injury.

Sanchez also is a gamer. He's the type of quarterback who can struggle early but save his best football for late in the game. It's hard to teach being clutch in the fourth quarter, but Sanchez has proven he can make big throws in big moments. He just needs to work on his consistency throughout the game.

That is where the Jets' coaching staff and front office come in. Much of this offseason was about giving Sanchez the tools he needs to be successful. The Jets brought in new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, whose straightforward approach should be an upgrade over Brian Schottenheimer. Then, New York drafted talented deep threat Stephen Hill to go with fellow receiver Santonio Holmes and tight end Dustin Keller. Tebow, as an option quarterback, should add to a running game that also includes 1,000-yard rusher Shonn Greene.

The goal for Sparano is to run a tighter offense that takes better care of the football and keeps the chains moving.

"There's no gray area. He lets you know exactly what he expects," Sanchez said of Sparano. "He lets you know the emphasis of the day. Whether it's third down, second down, pressures, first-and-10, two-minute drill, he lets you know and then once we get on the field, that’s your test. Each week, each Sunday is a test for us. He’ll give you all the answers, and once you get to Sunday you got to have the test."

Sanchez is currently going through the biggest test of his career, but it's not something that hasn't been done before.

Remember Eli Manning's first three seasons?

Many were trying to run Eli out of New York after a slow start to his career. In fact, Sanchez experienced more success than Eli in their first three years in the NFL. Sanchez has seven more victories (27 to 20) and eight more starts. Eli didn't win his first playoff game until his fourth year. Sanchez already has four.

It took Eli four years to truly develop into a franchise quarterback. That's when his career took off, and Eli won the first of two Super Bowls.

Why can't Sanchez get the same benefit of the doubt? Despite Sanchez's early success, it didn't buy him additional time in New York. Sanchez needs to win now.

In many ways Sanchez can learn from Eli's experience. Eli was in the doldrums worse than Sanchez his first three seasons with the Giants and still climbed out of it. Sanchez's best example to follow is right across town and plays in the same stadium.

"I look at that as kudos to him for doing a great job and thriving under that pressure," Sanchez said of Eli. "Look where he’s at today: Two Super Bowl rings and he’s on the top of the world and doing a great job and he deserves it. He’s put in a lot of hard work so you look at it and admire it."

Career makeovers do happen -- even in a tough city like New York. Sanchez has a chance to follow Eli's blueprint and become the next great turnaround story in the Big Apple.

The Jets have proven in the past they can win with Sanchez under center. With several upgrades by the team and self improvements made by Sanchez, the Jets also can win with him in the future.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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