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Thursday, May 2, 2013
Mark Sanchez vows to be starter

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Claiming he's more motivated than ever, New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez said he welcomes the competition from Geno Smith & Co., vowing to be the opening-day starter for the fifth straight year.

Mark Sanchez
Mark Sanchez, sporting slicked-back hair and a thin headband, said Thursday that he welcomes the competition but expects to start at QB for the Jets.

"No doubt. Sure. Of course," Sanchez said Thursday.

Sanchez, challenged for the first time in his career, was upbeat and confident as he faced reporters for the first time since the Jets selected Smith in the second round -- a bold move that fueled immediate speculation about Sanchez's future.

"There's a little fire going, and that's good," said Sanchez, sporting slicked-back hair and a thin headband. "I'm cool with that. I think it's good for everybody."

The Jets are calling it a five-way competition among Sanchez, Smith, David Garrard, Greg McElroy and Matt Simms, although they're unlikely to take all five to training camp.

Gone is Tim Tebow, who was released Monday. Sanchez, shedding light on his relationship with Tebow, described it as an intense competition that prevented them from becoming good friends. He predicted it'll be the same with Smith.

"Tim wanted to play and I wanted to play, but only one guy plays at that position," said Sanchez, adding: "Honestly, under different circumstances, we'd be pretty good friends. It's just hard when you're competing like that. There's just professionalism about it. You don't get too close to guys like that.

"If the guy has a flat tire on the side of the road, I'm going to stop. I'm not going to drive by him. But at the same time, I'm not sending him gifts on his birthday. I don't see why it would be different with [Smith]. I'll help him as much as I can, but when we have to compete, that's the way it goes."

He said he hasn't reached out to Smith.

Sanchez was driving in New Jersey on Friday when he received a call from offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who informed him the team had selected Smith in the second round.

"We're heating up the competition," Mornhinweg told him.

If Sanchez was irked by the move, he did a good job of disguising his emotions. He said it will be "a fierce competition" but vowed to turn it into a positive.

"I'm thrilled to compete," Sanchez said. "It's going to bring out the very best in me. ... There's a challenge for something I hold very dear to my heart. When somebody challenges you that way, it really brings out your best."

Sanchez is coming off his second straight 26-turnover season, prompting new general manager John Idzik to sign Garrard and draft Smith. Sanchez's roster spot isn't guaranteed, although his contract will make it difficult for the Jets to cut or trade him. He is due an $8.25 million base salary, fully guaranteed, plus a $500,000 workout bonus.

Idzik's plan, according to sources, is to bring Sanchez into training camp. Sanchez said he hasn't heard that directly from Idzik, but he doesn't think it's even a question. Sanchez said he's more focused than ever. At least one teammate agreed.

"I can't put my finger on it, but there's something different about him," center Nick Mangold said. "It's a maturity-level difference. There's something different about the way he's going about his work and his attitude."

Sanchez was once regarded as the face of the franchise, but the fans turned on him last season. He's still trying to live down the infamous Butt Fumble. Despite the hits to his reputation, he still believes it's his team and his starting job.

"Every quarterback should feel that way. I know I do," he said. "I'm not shy about voicing that opinion. You have to own it and compete your butt off to keep it."

Sanchez said he wasn't blindsided by the drafting of Smith because Idzik's mantra from day one has been to increase the competition at every position. Asked if he's being treated fairly, Sanchez dodged the question.

"Who's the say what's fair or not?" he said.

It's difficult to predict how it will shake out in training camp. The Jets could be hoping that a trade market develops for Sanchez, which could happen if another team loses a quarterback to injury.

Conversely, Sanchez is the only experienced and durable quarterback on the roster. Garrard, the former longtime Jacksonville Jaguars starter, missed the last two seasons with back and knee injuries.

"I've been a No. 1 quarterback before," Garrard said. "As long as I'm healthy, as long as I'm able to continue to work with the team and don't have setbacks with my knee or my back or anything like that, I know I have the ability to [start]."