Where Things Stand With Mark Sanchez

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

The crowd around Tim Tebow last week was ran deep. His fame outweighs his production, but this was the first time reporters had a chance to talk to Tebow in an Eagles uniform.

The gathering around Sam Bradford was huge too. He barely participated in practice, but there’s a lot riding on his surgically repaired left knee.

And then there’s Mark Sanchez, the quarterback who started eight games last season and has been lining up with the first team this spring. The group of reporters was smaller, but Sanchez touched on a variety of topics, including what his expectations are and why he chose to come back to Philadelphia.

When Sanchez re-signed, he expected to be competing with Nick Foles. But a couple days after he made his decision, the Eagles swapped Foles for Bradford.

“Whether I was surprised or not, I knew there was gonna be competition either way,” Sanchez said. “I had a great relationship with Nick so I expected to compete with him, but when that didn’t happen, I knew Sam was gonna be another guy in the quarterback room. And all of us are competing to play.

“Coach [Chip Kelly] didn’t have to persuade me. He didn’t have to say anything special. It was just basically, ‘Hey, you can compete like everybody else.’ ”

Sanchez’s stint as a starter last year featured ups and downs. On the bright side, he completed a career high 64.1 percent of his passes and averaged 7.8 YPA – both respectable marks. On the other hand, the turnover issues that have plagued him his entire career continued, as Sanchez posted an interception rate of 3.6 percent.

At times, Sanchez failed to push the ball downfield. Per Pro Football Focus, 12.0 percent of his attempts traveled 20 yards or more from the line of scrimmage. That ranked 22nd out of 38 quarterbacks.

Sanchez hinted that part of the reason was his recovery from a shoulder injury.

“Just going back and watching some of the film from last year, I could see the [lack of] zip on the ball,” he said. “I could see that early [OTA] period where all that stuff was filmed without even a defense, and I’m throwing the flat. I’m looking at the plays, and now I know the plays so I’m expecting that ball to be there now [snaps finger]. And I’m watching this ball float across the screen, like ‘Man, I’ve come a long way since that.’ So that’s encouraging, and hopefully it can only get better.”

Added Kelly: “He’s just a whole year advanced. He was probably in the tail end of medical rehab and probably in the performance rehab part when we got him last year at this point in time. Now he’s full go. I think you can see it in how he’s performing out there now. He’s also not learning an offense again. A lot of times not only are you trying to figure out how you’re throwing the ball again because you’re coming off a year‑long layoff in terms of throwing the football, but he is really comfortable in terms of the scheme.”

Sanchez says he doesn’t want to deal in hypotheticals, but it’s clear that he’s played the “what if” game in his head. What if the Eagles had made the playoffs? What if Sanchez had played well and they won a postseason game? Would he be in a different situation? Perhaps as the unquestioned starter?

“Obviously, any time you’re away from the game, it doesn’t help,” Sanchez said. “Then you’re coming off of injury, that doesn’t help either. So you’ve gotta kind of scramble and do the best with what you’ve got. I thought I left some opportunities out there for us. I think everybody feels like that. Everybody feels like, ‘Man if I could have just made this one play or if I could have made that throw or one catch or one better decision or taken a sack instead of trying to throw the ball, then we might have been in the playoffs and this is a whole different story here.’ ”

The reality now is that Bradford has the clear inside track on the starting job. That’s why the Eagles traded for him.

But it’s also true that Kelly runs a meritocracy. If Bradford struggles to get healthy, and Sanchez clearly outperforms him in the preseason, Kelly will go with Sanchez. That’s how he operates. Every personnel decision is based on one question: Who gives us the best chance to win? We’ve seen countless examples of that philosophy over the last two years.

Reminded that he set a career high in completion percentage under Kelly, Sanchez said: “And that was with a crappy arm, so that’s good.”

While he said he had options to go elsewhere, clearly the QB-friendly scheme and Kelly were the biggest factors in Sanchez deciding to stay.

“I’m coming off an injury and I threw my highest completion percentage of my career, so why try and change it now?” he said. “Let’s plug back in and see what happens.”