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Thursday, May 20, 2010
Sanchez plots return to White House

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- When the New York Jets returned to work Thursday morning after a one-day break from their offseason practices, the "What-I-did-on-my-day-off" stories were dominated by quarterback Mark Sanchez and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.

They spent Wednesday evening at the White House, guests of President Obama at a state dinner for Mexican president Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala. Instead of staying home and watching, say, "American Idol" on TV, Sanchez was an American idol.

As he met the various dignitaries on the receiving line, Sanchez received a surprise from Mexico's First Lady, who happens to be a big fan of the Jets' franchise quarterback. She reached into her purse and pulled out a Sanchez jersey.

"It was pretty funny," said Sanchez, a third-generation Mexican-American. "Everyone was kind of taken aback and was like, 'Wow.' It was pretty special."

Yep, it's good to be a young, handsome quarterback in the nation's media capital.

Sanchez Sanchez said there was a prevailing theme: He and Ferguson talked about how much they wanted to return with the rest of their teammates after the season -- as Super Bowl champions.

Both Sanchez and Ferguson said they were humbled and honored to attend the state dinner, where they mingled with heavy hitters in entertainment and politics. Sanchez said he picked Ferguson to accompany him because of the hulking lineman's interest in politics. It also helped, Sanchez admitted, that Ferguson is the man who protects his blind side -- and he wanted to take care of his No. 1 bodyguard. That, no doubt, was a politically smart decision by the quarterback.

Ferguson did some lobbying at the event. In a brief conversation with President Obama, he tried to convince the leader of the free world to become a Jets fan.

"It was no use," Ferguson said. "He's die-hard Chicago Bears."

Amid the pomp and circumstance of the black-tie affair, Sanchez said there was a prevailing theme. He and Ferguson talked about how much they wanted to return with the rest of their teammates after the season -- as Super Bowl champions.

"That was our frame of mind the entire time," he said. "We were scoping out the territory, and we're coming back in February."

The Jets' chances hinge in large part on Sanchez, who is recovering from knee surgery. In the team's first practice open to the media, he moved with no noticeable effects from the surgery. He ran the first-team offense in seven-on-seven drills, but he was held out of noncontact team drills. Coach Rex Ryan said he didn't want to take a chance on a freak injury.

"We don't need to have any setbacks," said Ryan, still hopeful that Sanchez will be able to participate fully in the June 14 minicamp.

Sanchez agreed with the decision to limit him in practice, although he admitted he lobbies all the time.

"I'm asking every day and it's a stern 'no,' " he said, laughing. "It's not worth taking a chance. What if somebody falls? What if I have to move too quick? I might not be ready for that yet. We're taking it slow and we're taking it smart."

For as much progress as he's made, Sanchez still hasn't run at full speed and still hasn't scrambled out of the pocket. The drop-backs in the seven-on-seven drills are scripted, with no improvisation and little risk factor. He's not ready for that yet.

But it was a memorable 24 hours. He rubbed elbows with the president, met Whoopi Goldberg, met Jay-Z, listened to a performance by Beyonce ("She killed it") and brought home a White House menu and his official name tag as souvenirs.

"It was pretty cool," he said.

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.