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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- On the final play of a five-set drill, Jerricho Cotchery sailed past Darrelle Revis on the left sideline, Mark Sanchez let it rip and Cotchery brought the ball in.
Sanchez, who couldn't pivot without thinking about his knee last season, ran up the field to meet Cotchery and give him an enthusiastic high-five.
"I was ready to chest-bump him I just didn't want to scare our trainer," joked Sanchez.
The New York Jets quarterback didn't even wear a knee brace Thursday as he took part in team drills for the second straight OTA at the Florham Park training facility. His first full practice was on Tuesday, when players said he looked crisp. For Sanchez, who underwent surgery on his left knee three months ago, it means he will reach his goal of playing in the mandatory minicamp starting Monday.
Congratulating Cotchery was an end to this part of the journey back.
"From Tuesday to today, two really good days, personally and as a team," Sanchez said. "That was just a culmination of all those emotions and all that study time back when I had my leg as big as a basketball, and I'm sitting in the meetings going over film and my eyes are like bleeding from watching film because these coaches can grind it for so long. And then we have a chance to have it all come together. It felt almost like a game.
"It felt really good."
It may be June, and the OTA is hardly a playoff scenario, but with contract issues swirling around the Jets, Sanchez's progress brings a little sunlight into the locker room. Without a clearly defined backup plan -- Kevin O'Connell has leaped Erik Ainge and seemed to be challenging Kellen Clemens in the backup QB rotation -- the Jets need their No. 1 quarterback healthy and ready to go. Sanchez said if it had been a game rather than an OTA, he would have been ready.
"I'm playing," Sanchez said. "I'm in, let's go."
All that study helped, in Jets coach Rex Ryan's opinion. He said his quarterback is no longer a clueless rookie who needed a cheat sheet to keep all the plays straight during a game.
"To see how far Mark's come, the grasp of the offense -- he's just not calling plays anymore. He understands what we want," Ryan said.
Sanchez agreed that this offseason feels completely different.
"I just feel so much more comfortable I feel good and ready to go mentally where last year my head was spinning."
He said the best part is that, for the first time in months his knee feels better, literally better than new. The worry he had when he had to cut or pivot on the field has evaporated.
"Now it's gone, this thing is solid," Sanchez said.
Jane McManus is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow her on Twitter.