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Monday, March 5, 2012
Has anybody heard from Mark Sanchez?

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

Mark Sanchez walked away from the wreckage of the New York Jets' season and hasn't been heard from since. Not a peep and only two tweets.

For two months, Sanchez has avoided the media spotlight, no easy task for a high-profile quarterback. Oh, there have been a few sightings, including a Sunday appearance at the Staples Center to catch his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, but he hasn't commented on football since the Jets' locker-room controversy exploded.

Inquiring minds want to know his take on the Santonio Holmes feud and the Peyton Manning speculation and the "coddled QB" firestorm, but Sanchez has managed to crisscross the map -- the Caribbean, South Florida, Las Vegas, California and New Jersey -- without dishing on any of it.

Mark Sanchez
Sanchez, normally personable, has disappeared from the public eye -- for the most part.

Nick Sanchez, the quarterback's older brother and business manager, said Mark has been "in the basement," so to speak, using the downtime for quiet introspection. Some might argue that Sanchez has been in the storm cellar, riding out the tumultuous offseason and ducking controversy.

"Good for him, he needs a vacation," said Bob Johnson, who coached Sanchez at Mission Viejo High School and remains a confidant. "I'm glad. He needs time away. He doesn't need to be answering those types of questions."

Sanchez hasn't addressed reporters since Jan. 2, the day after the Jets' once-promising season ended with the Holmes blowup in Miami. Since then, his leadership has been questioned by current and former teammates, some claiming he has been coddled by the organization.

His response?

Crickets.

"He's just been focused on, 'How do I improve?'" Nick Sanchez said. "He's been very introspective. He's back in the basement, back in the laboratory, watching as much film as he can and trying to figure out how to make this work. In his mind, it's not, 'How many interviews can I do?' It's, 'How many games can we win?'"

Those close to Sanchez are fiercely protective of him, reluctant to reveal too much about the past two months. For instance, his brother declined to say if the much-anticipated sitdown between Mark and Holmes has occurred.

This much we know:

Sanchez vacationed in the Caribbean after the season. He swung by South Florida, where he hooked up with former Jets and Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington for playbook study sessions -- an introduction to Tony Sparano's offense.

He partied in Vegas, dining at a tony steak house for a family-style meal that included lamb chops, Alaskan king crab, Australian lobster tails and organic fire chicken, according to a gossip item in the Las Vegas Sun. He washed it down with merlot and espresso martini shots. He also was spotted at a Vegas nightclub.

Sanchez experienced Linsanity (after all, he's only human), catching a recent Knicks game at the Garden. In fact, he tweeted a photo from the game, sitting with teammate D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Ferguson's wife.

A few days earlier, Sanchez made headlines with the Feb. 14 tweet to Holmes that read: "@santonio10 you want to be my valentine?" Attached was a picture of a heart-shaped box of cookies -- presumably, a lighthearted reference to their ballyhooed rift.

Aside from those two tweets, Sanchez has been conspicuously quiet on social media -- quiet everywhere. It has been a silent fortnight, multiplied by four.

Sanchez also didn't make an appearance at the Super Bowl, a mecca for product-endorsing players -- which prompted bashers to criticize him for avoiding the spotlight. The Jets explained his absence by claiming his marketing partners didn't require him to be there.

Privately, some teammates said they'd like to see Sanchez step up and exert his leadership.

Sanchez has spent most of his time in New Jersey and has been spotted many times at the Jets' facility, according to sources. Supervised instruction can't begin until April 16, according to the new collective bargaining agreement, but he has been working out on his own, strengthening the pinched nerve in his neck that flared up late last season.

He returned to California about three weeks ago, popping in to visit his old coach. Johnson didn't care to characterize the conversation ("It's private") or Sanchez's demeanor. The quarterback also worked out for a day with his personal trainer, Todd Norman, who runs a gym in Irvine.

"After everything that has gone on this year, it's probably a good thing to escape and remove yourself, to take a break, step back and think about things," said Norman, who has encouraged Sanchez to use the adversity as fuel.

On Monday, Sanchez began a six-week training program with Norman -- two to three hours a day, five days a week, until the Jets begin their offseason program. Teammates Joe McKnight and Patrick Turner, both former USC teammates, are expected to join Sanchez for the sessions.

"The plan is to get after it," Norman said. "I want to get him bigger, faster and stronger."

Norman fumed when he heard that an unnamed Jets player, quoted in the newspaper, questioned Sanchez's work ethic. That's not the player he knows, he said, the player who spent his bye week at home, working out.

Johnson, too, was annoyed.

"It kills me," he said. "That's just stupid."

Johnson is the father of a former NFL quarterback, so he knows there's a lightning-rod mentality for quarterbacks. You're either a hero or a bum, especially in New York.

On a flight back to California last November, following the Jets' blowout loss to the New England Patriots, Norman watched his friend get skewered on TV.

"All day on ESPN, they were ripping him apart," he said. "It was nonstop for six hours."

The criticism, he meant, not the flight. By season's end, it had intensified. How Sanchez responds in 2012 could determine the course of his career. For now, the former GQ cover boy has used the magazine's initials as a guide to handling the adversity.

Get Quiet.