Commentary

Can the Sanchise be salvaged?

Four keys for Mark Sanchez to produce on field and repair rapport with Jets teammates

Updated: January 12, 2012, 2:24 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

Being Mark Sanchez isn't what it used to be. After a two-year honeymoon, the Golden Boy from Hollywood is experiencing a serious case of New York ugly.

His third season was a major disappointment. His offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, was sacked. Former teammates questioned his leadership last week on the airwaves. Some current teammates, anonymously, trashed him in a newspaper article.

Sanchez is discovering that life in Big Town isn't as glossy as one of his GQ magazine spreads.

The New York Jets' quarterback wasn't available Wednesday to address the latest tempest, with a team spokesman saying Sanchez doesn't comment on "anonymous sources." Eventually, he will have to answer questions from the media and face his own teammates in the locker room, which, in case you haven't heard, was a cuckoo's nest.

Simply put, Sanchez has a lot of fixing to do -- his game, his image, you name it.

His standing among teammates isn't as dire as the one painted by the New York Daily News, but he definitely has some mending to do because "yeah, there's some doubt [about him]," one team source said. "Doubt creeps in when you don't get the job done."

Picture this: Sanchez walks into the team cafeteria, past a table of defensive players whispering negative comments about him among themselves. Yeah, that actually happened during the season. There were rifts in the Jets' locker room -- more cracks than an old sidewalk -- and that's a tough working environment for any quarterback.

But Sanchez must overcome the adversity, unite the locker room, and he has to do it with his play on the field.

Because let's be clear, next year is a make-or-break season for the former first-round pick. How do they repair the player once affectionately known as Sanchise?

• Create accountability. The Jets took a step in that direction by hiring former Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano as the new offensive coordinator. He's out of the Bill Parcells school, a no-nonsense disciplinarian, not afraid to get in a player's face if he messes up. Todd Haley, whom they're trying to hire as the passing-game coordinator, has a similar style.

Sanchez needs that because he rarely got called out by former coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, sources said. The coaches always took a nurturing and teaching approach with Sanchez -- Schottenheimer was relatively laid back -- but that's about to change. People who know Sparano believe his style will be hit or miss with Sanchez: He'll either embrace the tough love or recoil into a shell if his skin isn't thick enough.

• Easy street ends. The day after the season ended, GM Mike Tannenbaum declared Sanchez the starter for 2012, but said they'd evaluate the quarterback position as a whole. Translation: We're bringing in a legitimate No. 2 quarterback to push Sanchez.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Ronald C. Modra/Getty ImagesMark Sanchez struggled in Year 3 as the Jets' QB.

That will be a top priority because Tannenbaum saw two GMs get fired because they didn't have suitable backups -- Jerry Angelo (Chicago Bears) and Bill Polian (Indianapolis Colts). Aside from trying to save their own butts, Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan want a veteran quarterback who can put some heat on Sanchez, who never felt threatened by the presence of ancient backup Mark Brunell.

"I think the organization does baby [Sanchez], and I think they definitely need to bring in a viable backup," said ESPN analyst Damien Woody, a former Jets tackle. "A viable backup to really provide that competition, because with the competition you're either going to rise or you're just going to crumble."

Several people, publicly and privately, took exception to an unnamed player telling the Daily News that Sanchez is "lazy." They lauded his work ethic, saying he works coaches' hours at the team facility. If he has one thing going for him, it's that he puts in the time. During the lockout, Sanchez invited the skill-position players to a passing camp near his home in Southern California, footing part of the bill for expenses. About a dozen teammates showed (not Santonio Holmes). The goal was to stay in shape and -- how's this for irony? -- build chemistry.

But the organization wants to raise the temperature of his seat. Ryan tried it in November, announcing that he had benched Sanchez for a few reps in practice, but that was laughable. He came back the next day and declared he'd never pull Sanchez in a game, prompting one player to roll his eyes when he heard that.

Sparano's arrival fueled immediate speculation that the Jets will pursue former Dolphins starter Chad Henne, who will be an unrestricted free agent. Henne (13-18 as a starter) showed flashes of promise, but he was inconsistent and didn't finish last season because of a shoulder injury.

• Change the offense. Sparano believes in a power-running game (how long before he's uttering the words "Ground & Pound"?) and he emphasizes pass protection with the tight ends and running backs. In other words, he's not going to leave Wayne Hunter singled up against pass-rusher Jason Babin, as Schottenheimer did last month in Philadelphia.

Sparano's philosophy should help Sanchez, who needs the support of a strong running attack, but it remains to be seen whether he tweaks the passing game to suit Sanchez. People in the organization felt Schottenheimer tried to make Sanchez a pocket passer and never adjusted to his strengths -- play-action bootlegs, allowing him to throw on the run.

Look for Sparano to scale back the playbook. Schottenheimer ran a high-volume offense and it overwhelmed Sanchez at times, according to sources. Sanchez also needs a quarterback coach who can help him better understand pass coverages. Too often he doesn't know how to react when his first read is covered.

• Rebuild his confidence. This isn't going to be easy. Sanchez was hit so many times that it made him skittish and affected his mechanics. One opposing scout, watching him live in a late-season game, said Sanchez's body language was so poor in and out of the huddle that it had to convey bad vibes to the rest of his teammates.

The book on Sanchez: Hit him early and he's rattled for the rest of the game. Former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason, speaking last week to a Boston radio station, compared Sanchez to a Chihuahua on the corner of a busy Manhattan intersection.

"This kid has lost a lot of confidence," Esiason told ESPNNewYork.com. "He throws off his back foot when he doesn't have to, his accuracy is off and his footwork stinks. It all leads me to believe that, for whatever reason, his confidence got derailed. I don't know if he got hit a lot in the Baltimore game [in Week 4] and never recovered or if he feels like he lost the respect of some teammates, led by Santonio Holmes. All that stuff plays into it."

Basically, Sanchez bears no resemblance to the quarterback who outplayed Tom Brady in last year's playoffs even though he insisted recently that he's "light years" ahead of previous seasons in terms of his overall development. Publicly, Tannenbaum and Ryan are sticking by him, saying he's still their guy. By revamping the offensive staff, it seems they're keeping the baby and dumping the bath water.

"They have to do whatever they can do to save Sanchez," said former Washington Redskins GM Vinny Cerrato, an analyst for 1050 ESPN New York. "What they're saying is, 'It's not Sanchez, he has the ability. It was the coaching, it was the play calling, it was everything around him.'"

Sanchez's third-year statistics were eerily similar to those of Eli Manning. Sanchez was slightly better in touchdown passes (26 to 24), passer rating (78.1 to 77.0) and yardage (3,474 to 3,244), but Manning owned a small edge in completion percentage (57.7 to 56.7). They both threw 18 interceptions and both finished 8-8.

So does that mean …

"No," said an opposing personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Eli has a better arm and he's a better deep-ball thrower. I think Eli is a franchise quarterback. I see 'starter' ability in Sanchez. He'll get better, but I don't see a franchise quarterback."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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