Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Updated: May 4, 8:27 AM ET
Sanchez taking charge in Jets West
By Rich Cimini
MISSION VIEJO, Calif. -- They came from all parts of the country and both ends of the NFL gamut, from a future Hall of Famer to 3-day-old draft picks. They came because Mark Sanchez organized the event -- "Jets West" -- and because the championship-starved New York Jets don't want to get stale during the lockout.
Sanchez hosted 13 teammates Tuesday at his former high school, Day 2 of a weeklong camp -- a mini-minicamp, if you will. Each day includes a morning workout, followed by a film session, an hour or so on the field and an evening social event.
The Jets quarterback is like a cruise director, coordinating everything from practice scripts to the catered lunches.
"I'm leading this entire group, along with Rex [Ryan], and when Rex can't be with them, I'm the guy," Sanchez said. "I'm the coach on the field. It's my job to coordinate things like this."
Sanchez hatched Jets West last summer, mostly as a way to sharpen his skills after missing most of the offseason due to knee surgery. This time, it's about the entire offense, trying to stay in shape and build chemistry while banned from the team facilities.
"Not many teams are doing this, but the ones that are doing it, it will get them a win or two extra," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "So does that mean we win 13 games next year? We hope so. That's the idea."
Sanchez invited every skill-position player to the camp, even the rookies. Because players aren't allowed to communicate with teams during the lockout, he had to scramble to track down phone numbers for the draft picks. He managed to recruit three, quarterback Greg McElroy and receivers Jeremy Kerley and Scotty McKnight, a friend who lives locally.
On Day 2, the most notable absences were wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards -- both free agents -- and running back Shonn Greene. Edwards, who flew to California and is staying with teammates at an oceanfront resort, missed the first two days because of "personal issues." He said he's planning to join the workout Wednesday.
This isn't just a pitch-and-catch camp. It's a full day, starting with an early-morning workout conducted by Sanchez's personal trainer, Todd Norman. After that, the players meet in the football office at Mission Viejo High School, where Sanchez, making like the offensive coordinator, runs the show.
"He sounds like a coach, telling everybody what to do," Tomlinson said. "Even watching film, he sounds like a coach."
Anticipating the lockout, Sanchez visited the Jets' video department at the end of the season and downloaded cut-ups to his personal laptop. That, in essence, became a take-home video library of the 2010 season. Using that, he designed a scaled-down playbook for his camp participants. Each player received a binder with "Jets West" written on the cover. The rookies didn't receive playbooks from the team, as per the lockout restrictions, but there's no rule that they can't be taught by teammates.
In the morning meeting, Sanchez teaches a new concept each day -- protections, formations, shifts and motions. He will ask the group whether there are any questions. He has come a long way from the confused rookie quarterback in 2009 who needed a color-coded play list on his wrist band.
"If you have a rookie quarterback who doesn't know the system, there's no way you can put on a camp like this," Sanchez said. "And if you don't know who your starter is, it's also difficult. We're fortunate that way.
"We're trying to take every advantage we can to win one more game. If this helps us win one playoff game or maybe get one playoff game at home in the playoffs, then it really paid off."
Somewhere in New Jersey, in between book signings, Ryan must be smiling.
With no injury protection, the players are taking a risk by participating. There's no contact, and they're not running pass routes against defenders, but all it takes is one awkward step on the artificial turf and ... potential disaster.
"They understand the risk they're taking, but they need to work out and they know that," Sanchez said. "It just makes sense to be here."
In Tuesday's workout, Sanchez did "a ton of throwing," as he put it, showing no ill effects from his late-season shoulder injury. He was joined by veteran quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Kevin O'Connell. The tight ends and wideouts were Dustin Keller, Brad Smith, Patrick Turner, Jeff Cumberland, Logan Payne, and the backs were John Conner and Joe McKnight.
Sanchez did much of the coaching on the field, often telling the younger players where to line up. His former high school coach and renowned quarterback trainer, Bob Johnson, was present, along with his son, former NFL quarterback Rob Johnson.
The field had the look of an NFL training camp, with trainers (from the high school) and cold tubs. After practice, they sat down for a catered lunch. Nick Sanchez, Mark's older brother and agent, arranged for a different restaurant each day. On Tuesday, it was Mexican food.
They spent the evening at Mark Sanchez's home for a team barbecue. On Monday night, they traveled via bus to Los Angeles for the Lakers' playoff game. Sanchez, the quarterback/concierge, scheduled a week of nightly social events. On Thursday, they will have a team dinner at a local restaurant to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
"Mark is a great host," Keller said. "A lot of guys turned out for this, and that says a lot about Mark."