Mark Sanchez set for 'Jets West'

Updated: July 11, 2013, 12:50 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

Two weeks before he reports to a make-or-break training camp with the New York Jets, Mark Sanchez will gather Thursday with about 15 teammates near his home in Southern California for "Jets West" -- his annual, players-only passing camp.

For three days, Sanchez will wear two hats -- quarterback and coordinator, running on-the-field workouts and leading film-study sessions.

He's certainly not acting like he's worried about losing his starting job to rookie Geno Smith -- and he's not talking that way, either. Sanchez all but predicted he will prevail in their open competition.

"When it's a straight-up competition for the job, let's roll," the embattled Sanchez said in a recent sitdown with ESPNNewYork.com. "It really doesn't bother me at all. It really doesn't affect my confidence or anything like that. We're competing for something. All right, I'm going to win. That's just how I am."

Publicly, the Jets' coaches are calling it an even race, although it became clear that Sanchez outplayed Smith in the spring, culminating with last month's minicamp.

Nevertheless, the competition is expected to last at least two preseason games, with the organization hoping that Smith, drafted in the second round, can make a serious run at the job. Sanchez, coming off his second straight 26-turnover season, has many skeptics, probably some in his own building.

The ever-optimistic Sanchez insisted he's the same quarterback who helped his team to back-to-back AFC Championship Games in 2009 and '10. But a frustrated fan base, still reliving the nightmare of the infamous "Butt Fumble," has run out of patience with Sanchez.

But he still wants to make it work in New York.

"I love being here, I love playing here," said Sanchez, who has a 33-29 starting record in four seasons. "We've tasted success here and we've seen that formula work and we're getting back to that. There was a little adversity last year. Call it a little, call it a lot, call it whatever. It doesn't affect the way I train, the way I work."

Sanchez unwittingly provided his critics with additional fodder recently when an embarrassing video hit the Internet. It shows him dancing semi-nude with two women at a house party, his shorts down to his knees and his backside in full view.

He has yet to comment on the video, but he will be asked about it Friday at "Jets West." Initially, the event was closed to the media, but Sanchez, in a possible public-relations move, decided last week to have one day of media availability.

The other issue surrounding "Jets West" is whether Smith will show up to it. It's open to all skill-position players, but Smith initially expressed reluctance about participating. As of Wednesday night, it was unclear if he will attend.

In two weeks, Sanchez and Smith will battle each other in a microanalyzed competition. For Sanchez, it could be a career changer. If he fails to resurrect his career, he'll be playing elsewhere in 2014.

"Competition can be a very good thing," former Jets quarterback Mark Brunell, a close friend of Sanchez, said Wednesday in a phone interview. "You've got a kid the organization is excited about, drafting [Smith] that high. That could be motivation for Mark.

"Mark's not a young quarterback anymore. He knows how the game works. I think he'll respond well. It's really a critical year for him. This is his fifth year. It's time to get things going."

For the record, Brunell said he expects Sanchez to win the job.

The now-retired Brunell attended "Jets West" in 2011, but he never was a serious threat to Sanchez's job. He was a big brother to Sanchez, a stabilizing influence. It's a different dynamic with Smith, and it would be awkward if he shows up Thursday. Then again, Tim Tebow participated last year. As it turned out, Tebow never challenged Sanchez, who wound up getting benched late in the year for third-stringer Greg McElroy.

Sanchez said he's ready for anyone and anything. He still believes it can be 2010 again.

"I've been that guy; nothing has changed," he said. "The results haven't been what we wanted, but I haven't changed. You don't just switch and say, 'This year, I'm going to do it.' You have to be that guy at all times.

"I'm confident I can go out and make the plays for this team to win. You can't guarantee wins and you can't promise anything like that, but I know we'll be the best-prepared team and the hardest-working team. We'll have the potential to have a good season."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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