Commentary

Ryan sending Sanchez wrong message

Rex knows he's not going to start Mark Brunell, so he should keep that to himself

Updated: November 23, 2011, 11:39 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- One day after revealing that he's trying to motivate Mark Sanchez by giving a handful of practice reps to backup Mark Brunell, Rex Ryan said Wednesday he doesn't envision ever benching Sanchez.

That's what you call a mixed message.

Actually, it's a bad message.

The New York Jets have only one player that deserves untouchable status, and his name is Darrelle Revis. No one else has earned sacred-cow treatment. Sanchez should be held to the same standard as the other 51 players. If you're not doing the job, you're subject to demotion.

It's called competition, and it's the law of the NFL jungle. It keeps players on edge and it creates a meritocracy. Accountability is a must in every locker room. No free passes.

This topic came up when Ryan was asked whether Brunell could do the job if called upon to replace Sanchez, who has struggled the past two games. Ryan said some nice things about Brunell, 41, but he gave the distinct impression that he'd rather kiss Bill Belichick's rings than yank Sanchez.

"I don't see taking Mark Sanchez out of a game," Ryan said. "I don't see that."

OK, maybe for a series, Ryan allowed. But the coach quickly added, "I don't see myself ever taking Mark out of a game."

Ryan can feel that way because, praise for Brunell notwithstanding, he knows the gap between Sanchez and Brunell is too significant to make a change. But that doesn't mean Ryan should make his feelings known. There's nothing wrong with letting your quarterback think he's on the hot seat -- or even a lukewarm seat. Pressure isn't a bad thing.

Sometimes Ryan is too honest for his own good. Asked how his motivational ploy can work if Sanchez knows Brunell is no threat to his job, Ryan gave this candid response:

"I don't have any idea."

This new practice arrangement, sitting Sanchez for a few snaps a day, is a transparent ruse -- love taps. Ryan admitted as much. He's doing it because he did it last year before a critical game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Sanchez responded with a solid performance that returned the quarterback's arrow to the "up" position.

So it's superstition as much as anything.

Ryan acknowledged his quarterback-related decisions are scrutinized more than others. He's smart enough to know that every move -- or non-move -- contains a hidden message. He doesn't want the players in the locker room, especially the defensive players, thinking Sanchez has carte blanche.

"I think you send a message that, 'You know what, guys? Hey, if we have to [pull him], we'll do it,'" Ryan said. "There has to be that a little bit."

But in his next breath, Ryan said, "But is it kind of empty? It probably is."

Like we said, too honest.

If Ryan really wanted to get Sanchez's attention, he would've let him twist in the wind a little. There's nothing wrong with that.

Chances are, Sanchez will play well Sunday against the banged-up and reeling Buffalo Bills (5-5), and everybody will praise Ryan for pushing the right buttons. It's kind of like the baseball manager that calls a team meeting the day his ace is taking the mound: You feel good about your chances.

For the third straight day, Brunell received a few first-team reps in practice. Ryan enjoyed telling the media that Sanchez seemed "hot under the collar," but, yes, they are talking, according to the coach. Ryan joked that Sanchez took a cheap shot at him in practice and "it felt like a fly hitting me."

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said he liked the look in Sanchez's eye.

"He's a competitive guy and I think he knows it's his huddle -- and I think it drives him," he said. "I think he's a guy that it definitely drives. It worked last year. I think he has a good look on his face this week, a steely-eyed look. Usually, those are good signs for us."

Imagine if they really tried to shake him up.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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