- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The two quarterbacks stood about 20 feet from each other Thursday in the locker room, addressing barbed questions from reporters. It was the New York Jets' quarterback controversy -- in stereo.
Tim Tebow denied speculation that he is frustrated in his smaller-than-expected role, and starter Mark Sanchez -- in his strongest comments to date -- insisted he's not concerned about the possibility of being replaced by the popular backup.
Actually, it is different because Brunell and Clemens -- Sanchez's previous backups -- never posed a legitimate threat. The same cannot be said of Tebow, who proved last season with the Denver Broncos that he can lift a team from a poor start.
Sanchez, mired in a three-game slump, faces quite possibly the most pressure-filled start of his career Monday night against the Houston Texans. He will play the league's top-ranked defense without his No. 1 weapon, injured wide receiver Santonio Holmes.
Sanchez has a patchwork receiving corps, but that won't stop the home fans from chanting for Tebow if he gets off to a slow start.
"It's another opportunity," said Sanchez, whose 49.2 completion percentage is the lowest in the league. "Nobody expects it to work. Nobody expects it to go right. Nobody expects us to win. That's fine.
"I've been in situations like this before. I'm confident I can handle it, and there's only one way in my mind to go about it -- and that's really to attack it."
During his first three years, Sanchez had elder statesman-type players to lean on, namely Thomas Jones and LaDainian Tomlinson. This season, he's surrounded by youth. In fact, Sanchez has more career starts (51) than the combined total of all the wide receivers and tight ends.
"I don't worry about how hard it is," Sanchez said. "I just have to do it. We have to do it. We have to make it work."
Meanwhile, Tebow, perhaps the most famous backup quarterback in recent history, is lurking in the background.
The plan was to integrate Tebow into the offense, via the Wildcat package, but it hasn't worked out too well. Tebow has played just 32 snaps, including 15 at quarterback. Now there are rumblings that he's unhappy, that the Jets haven't fulfilled promises they made prior to the trade.
Tebow said he hasn't talked to anyone about being unhappy in his role.
"I mean, you get frustrated when you lose football games, so I think everyone in the locker room, when you lose games, you're a little frustrated, but I think that's natural," he said. "Other than that, (I'm) just trying to work hard, get better and we're 2-2. The season's not over."
Jets coach Rex Ryan, who admitted this week the Wildcat has been a disappointment, said he hasn't sensed any frustration from Tebow.
Ryan obviously has a key role in this. If the offense continues to struggle -- it only has two touchdowns in the last 12 quarters -- he will be under enormous public pressure to make a change.
From all indications, Ryan isn't close to benching Sanchez. On Thursday, he said he'd have no problem playing Tebow "if something happened to Mark" -- meaning an injury.
"Sure, no question, he's a good quarterback," Ryan said of Tebow. "You can't bluff your way in this league and have the success he's had. ... We're fortunate. We have two guys that have won five playoff games -- two young quarterbacks. I don't know if any other teams have that."
Playing quarterback for the Jets these days isn't a joy ride. The running game is nonexistent and the receiving corps is unproven. The longest-tenured receiver is Jeremy Kerley, a second-year player with one career start.
Kerley and Chaz Schilens probably will start Monday night because of the injuries to Holmes (out for the season with a Lisfranc injury to his left foot) and rookie Stephen Hill (hamstring). Clyde Gates, a Miami Dolphins castoff, and journeyman Jason Hill, who arrived Wednesday, are the reserves.
They're in such a catch-up mode that Sanchez and the receivers are spending extra time on the practice field and in the classroom. Sanchez likes to give reminders in the huddle before each play, but he's under orders from receivers coach Sanjay Lal to let them figure it out on their own.
"I've messed up out there and put Mark in bad situations," Schilens said. "Other guys have, too. It's a team game. You see Mark out there with a bad completion percentage, but that's only half the story at most."
Ryan said Sanchez's completion rate is down because, playing catch up, he's making longer throws than normal. But he's also missing too many easy completions. He's had 35 off-target throws, the highest percentage of off-target incompletions in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"Have I missed some throws this year? Absolutely, without question," Sanchez said. "Looking at the tape, there's a bunch of throws each game, a handful of throws you want back. Those are ones I can control."