Published: Sunday, September 12, 2010, 5:00 AM Updated: Sunday, September 12, 2010, 9:13 AM it was early July, and there was at least one pressing question on the mind of Mark Sanchez:
Where in the world do I find plastic tubs giant enough for my teammates to take ice baths?
The answer: a tack and feed store. the Jets’ franchise quarterback ordered a half-dozen, had them delivered to a football field in his native Southern California and arranged for daily drop-offs from ice trucks.
Sanchez could only host the lauded “Jets West” passing camp if he took care of details like ice baths. and, securing passes for his receivers to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. and working with the Jets staff on morning film reels that illustrated the lesson plan he designed for each day.
“There’s no way I could have pulled that off without proving to these guys last year that I’m going to get it,” Sanchez said. “Toward the end of the year, we started figuring things out, and it was like, ‘I’m going to be good; I know it. just trust me now.’ ”
The Jets have put their trust in Sanchez, the baby-faced 23-year-old who became the face of the organization with the fifth pick of the 2009 draft.
But in Sanchez’s rookie season, the Jets ran the ball a plentiful 607 times, compared to his 390 passing plays. at the top of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s list this offseason was nurturing a more-developed air game — an objective Sanchez’s “Jets West” camp no doubt encouraged.
The Jets are still a ground-and-pound club at their core, but this is the bottom line: last year, they ran the ball about 60 percent of the time and went to the AFC Championship Game. this year, the mission is to be more balanced and win a Super Bowl.
“If we want to win a championship, we have to be able to throw the football,” right tackle Damien Woody said. “That’s just the way the league is set up.”
So in the doldrums of winter, Schottenheimer found guidance in film cut-ups from last season. he made a list, of the finer points of the passing game to tune up: Timing. Spacing. Landmarks of routes. Releases. Sanchez’s decision-making.
The quarterback is the first to admit that final item stunted the Jets’ air game last fall. There were some passes Schottenheimer was “terrified” to call, Sanchez explained, because he had no idea where the ball would wind up.
Before commendably gaining his footing on the grand stage of the playoffs, Sanchez defined the Jets’ mercurial regular season with 20 interceptions — tied for second-most in the league — and the NFL’s fourth-worst completion percentage, 53.8.
“Mark Sanchez has so much natural, God-given ability in his arm, that for him to be a 53 percent passer is unheard of,” Schottenheimer said. “this year, we should get him to jump up, because we’re getting him to understand how important it is to just throw completions.”
The Jets coaches hammered this message home, with the help of diagnostic statistics compiled by their offensive quality control staff. You were near the bottom of the league in third-down completion percentage, they told him, while Peyton Manning topped the list. the best NFL offenses in the past six years had a running back with more than 40 catches, they pointed out, and we didn’t crack 15.
Sanchez processed these figures and developed some check points of his own, goals for the season to measure himself by: Pass for more than 200 yards per game. Score 28 points. Throw 30 touchdowns and fewer than 10 interceptions this season. be on the AFC Pro Bowl ballot.
These are lofty goals for Year 2, and the caveat is that sophomore passers — see: Matt Ryan — don’t automatically take a step forward. In fact, longtime NFL head coach Marty Schottenheimer told his son, Brian, during a training-camp visit that if a second-year quarterback plays at his rookie level, he considers it progress.
“the basic principle is defenses in Year 1 are looking at the Jets offense as a whole,” Marty Schottenheimer explained by phone last week. “and now that he’s in his second year, and has shown he can be a winning quarterback, a lot more emphasis will be put on him.”
Sanchez worked to nullify that with his own amplified knowledge of offensive assignments and defensive schemes. he used his recovery from offseason arthroscopic knee surgery as a months-long study hall, staring at defensive fronts and watching them come to life on film.
He sat with tight end Dustin Keller one-on-one in the film room, queuing up a play and each telling the other what he would be thinking on that route. Then, the friends would vote on who had the better idea. Sanchez put in the same time with Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes — a Romeo among his receiving corps, in search of better connections and more completions.
“I’ve never seen a guy,” coach Rex Ryan said, “put that kind of time into the mental part of the game.”
The reward so far is a playbook with more flavors, and 15 to 20 percent thicker. If the 2009 regular season was Offense 101, and the postseason was Offense 201, Schottenheimer analogized, this year is a graduate-level class.
Included are a handful of plays Schottenheimer and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh borrowed during an offseason visit to Steve Sarkisian, Sanchez’s offensive coordinator at USC and now the University of Washington coach.
Sanchez sees more options when he steps up to the line. instead of just being given the choice to check out of a run play into another run, he now may have a pass option, too — a “trifecta check,” he calls it.
His mastery of protections also means Schottenheimer is much more comfortable using empty formations, for instance. and unlike with the color-coded system of last season — designed to avoid catastrophes like the five-interception game against Buffalo — there are no handcuffs.
“There’s nothing we do not trust him with,” Schottenheimer said. “nothing.”
Of course, the gray hairs Schottenheimer sprouted last season are sure to multiply. the offense, and passing game in particular, never seemed to find its rhythm this preseason — though the Jets did not game plan.
In the Jets’ odyssey for a Super Bowl ring, Sanchez sees himself as the point guard, surrounded by abundant talent. but he’s a point guard who needs to lead and score.
“Maybe not like a Steve Nash who goes for 30,” Sanchez said, “but get my solid 10 to 12 points.”