Sanchez Back In the Spotlight
The tent outside the NovaCare practice field was jammed with reporters. Members of the national and New York media had come down to document Mark Sanchez’s first day as the Eagles’ starting quarterback, and were all gathered by the podium along with the Philly scribes as Wednesday’s practice wrapped up. It’s been pretty quiet around these parts (relatively speaking) through eight games, especially for a team that has been near the top of the standings all season. But Sanchez sure can draw a crowd, and on this day Philadelphia felt like the axis of the NFL universe once again.
It’s been a while since Sanchez has been the center of attention. After five years of having his every snap and sentence analyzed, he has spent the last seven months or so mostly off-camera. Not that you would know it based on how he handled himself in front of the mic Wednesday. He was relaxed and introspective and anecdotic. He’s had plenty of practice at this thing, and you can tell that he is comfortable out in front. That’s clearly where he wants to be, though the break in-between seemed to serve the 27-year-old well.
“I guess just getting that chance to get a bird’s eye view of everything,” said Sanchez of the benefits of taking a step back. “Put that New York experience in its place and take with me a lot of the things that went well, improve upon the things that didn’t go so well. Hopefully I’m a better version of myself and the best version of myself for this Monday night game.”
The transition from Nick Foles to Sanchez appears to have happened rather seamlessly internally. Jason Peters noted after the game that he didn’t even know that Foles was out until he turned to congratulate him for his long completion to Jeremy Maclin and saw it was Sanchez instead. Similarly, Malcolm Jenkins said he was unaware of the quarterback switch while on the sideline Sunday.
Has he noticed any kind of change this week now that Sanchez has taken over the starter’s role?
“No, to be honest,” said Jenkins. “We still expect the same thing out of our offense with Mark at the helm and he gets a lot of reps in practice, so it’s not like he is one of those quarterbacks that is doing scout team all year and all of a sudden you’re telling him, ‘Go win us a game or go win us more than one game.’ …He’s probably gotten more reps than any other backup quarterback in the league right now. We feel real comfortable with him plugging it in.
“He knows how to manipulate defenders to get the look that he wants, he knows how to read defenses. He’s got the tools and he’s got the confidence now, and this system obviously is something that he can play well in and he understands and is comfortable with.”
Sanchez has talked on multiple occasions about how much he likes this offense. He enjoys the up-tempo, quick-strike approach, partially because it doesn’t give you time to dwell on the previous play. You can just wipe the board clean.
The fresh start in Philadelphia has allowed him to do that from a career perspective as well, though he has taken some of the hard lessons learned in New York and is trying to use it to his benefit here in Philly.
“Some of the impulse reaction things,” said Sanchez. “Right before halftime J.J. Watt came through and I tried to escape him. I’ve been in that situation a bunch where the ball is flailing around and it gets knocked out of your hand and you try and throw at that last second. And I literally just dropped to the ground. That hurts as a competitor. It sucks. It’s not fun. But I knew we had a field goal in the bag and I knew that [Cody] Parkey’s been money so let’s not squander an opportunity to get points, go into halftime up 17-14 and see where this game takes us. I think in the past I would have tried to make a play, tried to do too much, try to push a little too hard, and that’s where you turn over the ball on the fast break and now you miss your opportunity at an easy two points because you’re trying too hard. That kind of mentality is the way we’re playing.”
Sanchez completed about 55 percent of his throws while with the Jets and threw 68 touchdowns to 69 interceptions. He made it to two AFC Championship games, but struggled in the latter stages of his time in New York. A shoulder injury during the 2013 preseason knocked him out of the spotlight and eventually out of New York.
Rehabbed and a little more seasoned, Sanchez is optimistic that the second act will go better than the first.
“It’s a familiar feeling,” said Sanchez of being back atop the depth chart. “I’m thankful for that, that I’ve had that experience before.
“I like to think I’ve grown and I know I have just watching film, things come faster, it comes easier. You hear a lot of people say that the game slows down, I think you just tend to speed up, you tend to relax a little bit.”