Commentary

Mark Sanchez staying a step ahead

Incumbent outplaying Tebow, but Jets' lack of weaponry could hinder both QBs

Originally Published: July 31, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Tim Tebow has already made one of the most interesting training camps in the NFL even more interesting.

Since Rex Ryan was hired in 2009 to be the New York Jets' head coach, he has brought a swagger to a franchise that now competes for space on the back pages of the New York tabloids with the Giants, Yankees, Mets and Knicks. Tebow-mania puts the Jets over the top.

It will be fascinating to see whether Jets fans will be different than Denver fans in regards to Tebow. As a thrower, Tebow is as inconsistent as he was in Denver, but Broncos fans largely ignored it. They idolized Tebow.

Over the weekend, Jets fans weren't as supportive. Some heckled his throwing. Because Tebow is so popular, he will win over fans who might want to see him challenge Mark Sanchez for playing time. But New York can be a tough market. The support for Tebow might not be as strong as it was in the Mile High City.

Here are some observations from Jets camp:

1. Sanchez in control: For now, Sanchez has responded well to the Tebow challenge. He's throwing the ball well and seems to have improved his mechanics. The most casual observer can see Tebow isn't ready to unseat Sanchez as the starter. Of course, the same could have been said last year in Denver. Tebow was behind Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn, and after Orton crumbled as a starter, Tebow came in and helped take the Broncos to the playoffs. The lesson here is that training camp isn't the place to judge. You have to wait until the regular season to see how things play out. Sanchez can win the practice battles throughout the summer, but can he keep fans satisfied during the regular season? Any regular-season slump will create a call for Tebow. In his fourth season, Sanchez has proved himself to be a winner, but he's not an elite quarterback.

2. Supporting cast still questionable: For the second consecutive year, the Jets appear to have a weapon deficiency on offense. When I was at Jets camp two years ago, I concluded that Sanchez may never again have as many weapons as he did in 2010. At his disposal were five players who could catch 50 passes in any given season -- Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller, Braylon Edwards, LaDainian Tomlinson and Jerricho Cotchery. Now, he might have only two in Holmes and Keller. Second-round draft choice Stephen Hill is an impressive, tall, fast target, but he's raw.

Last year, the Ravens drafted Torrey Smith to add speed and separation to an older group of receivers. Smith came up with 50 catches and seven touchdowns. I'm not sure Hill can have that type of impact. Chaz Schilens should help. In Oakland, he had some of the best hands on the team, but injuries prevented him from catching more than 29 passes in a season. The big void may be in the slot. Last year, the Jets tried Derrick Mason there and found he was too old. Jeremy Kerley was the next option, but that doesn't seem to be working. Ryan has already expressed disappointment in the way Kerley is picking up the offense. The Jets need to be looking for more receiver help.

[+] EnlargeShonn Greene
Richard Mackson/US PresswireThe Jets are asking a lot from Shonn Greene, who still needs to prove he's a featured back.

3. Can Greene get it done? The play of Shonn Greene could be the second-most important story of the season behind Sanchez. When the Jets moved away from dependable running back Thomas Jones two years ago, they felt Tomlinson and Greene could fill the void. The strategy worked in 2010 because Tomlinson still had a little left and Greene was a good inside runner as a backup. Despite rushing for 1,054 yards last year, Greene still has the look of a good backup. More will be expected of him this year, with plans to get him to the 280-300 carry level. If he can't gain 1,200 yards, there could be problems. It's hard to sign off on Joe McKnight as a dependable backup before he proves himself. Bilal Powell might be the third-down back and a lot will be expected of him. For the Jets to be better than 8-8, Greene needs to prove his worth in what is a contract year.

4. Ryan is an equalizer: With Ryan as coach, the Jets will likely never be terrible. Ryan caused a stir last week when he said he was the best defensive coach in football. Some checked out the stats, and the numbers backed up some of his claim. All you have to do is watch Ryan coach the defense in camp to see why he is so good. Though he's a players' coach, he pushes defenders hard in drills. As a defensive unit, the Jets might be aging in some spots and losing some athleticism. Regardless, Ryan gets the most out of what he has, and he is a master at improving defensive lines. The Jets may or may not make the playoffs, but they will contend thanks to Ryan.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer