CORTLAND, N.Y. (AP) — Mark Sanchez wants to be like Eli Manning.
And so far, the New York Jets quarterback is right on track. He’ll need one terrific finish to his a fourth NFL season to keep pace, though. Super Bowl or bust? Not quite, but the pressure’s on — and Sanchez knows it.
“This whole thing is a learning process, and it really is a marathon and not a sprint,” Sanchez said after training camp practice Monday. “So, just keep your head down, keep working, smile, and have a good time with it.”
The similarities through the New York quarterbacks’ first three NFL seasons are unmistakable: Doubts from fans and media that they could ever truly lead their franchise. Struggles on the field. The immense pressure of playing in New York.
Sanchez knows all this and has worked hard in the offseason, perhaps spurred on even more by the presence of Tim Tebow as his backup quarterback. One day this spring, Sanchez was curious and decided to see just how closely he and the Giants quarterback compare through their first three seasons.
— Sanchez: 9,209 yards passing with 55 touchdowns and 51 interceptions in 47 games — with four road playoff wins.
— Manning: 8,049 yards passing with 54 TDs and 44 INTs in 41 games — with two playoff losses.
Oh, and their quarterback ratings? Exactly the same at 73.2.
The difference for Manning came the following season, when he elevated his game in the postseason and began his climb to elite status.
“That fourth year, I think he threw one pick in the playoffs when they won that Super Bowl — one,” Sanchez said. “And I think he might have thrown 20 in the regular season. I’ve been there, and plenty of quarterbacks have been there, so you see the margin for error in this league is so small. And once the quarterback, the offense and the coordinator really realize that, and take advantage of that and show that on the field, you can win a lot of games and be very successful.”
Of course, that is the type of success Sanchez and the rest of the Jets franchise are hoping for. And seeing how Manning was able to handle all of it gives them all hope.
“You see guys elevate their game in the playoffs, you look at other careers, that kind of stuff gets brought to your attention, especially if you have similar career tracks as somebody else in the league or a similar upbringing,” Sanchez said. “So yeah, I looked into it, and have seen how successful (Manning’s) been and seen how he has really weathered the storm and played really well. His game is unbelievable.
“He’s doing a great job.”
Appearing loose and relaxed despite the perceived pressure with Tebow in town, Sanchez has had a good start to camp. Other than a ho-hum performance Sunday, Sanchez has been sharp and the clear leader of the offense.
“I think it takes time,” Sanchez said. “It takes a confidence level and that only happens through getting more and more reps. As guys mature and get a little older and get more familiar with the defenses they see, get more familiar with their surroundings, what a pregame routine is like, they really nail down their own routine and kind of find themselves.”
Meanwhile, Tebow’s biggest highlight came after a shirtless run in the rain after practice Saturday, something he was stunned became such a big story. Tebow is the most popular player on the team, and says the immense scrutiny that comes with that can be a challenge at times.
“Sometimes it is if you just want to go to a movie, ‘The Dark Knight’ or something,” Tebow said. “It’s something you have to think about and plan for. It’s not like I get frustrated doing it. It’s just sometimes you just want to relax and be normal, because that’s how I view myself.”
In reality, Tebow is anything but normal. His star status goes far beyond the football field, not only because of his accomplishments as a player, but also his strong Christian beliefs, humble approach and good looks. That’s why the Internet went wild Saturday as photos and videos were shown just about everywhere of his bare-chested run. A few days later, it was still a topic of conversation.
“My shirt felt like 20 pounds because we had been in the rain and then I was signing autographs for like 20 or 30 minutes,” Tebow said, explaining what happened. “I didn’t really think y’all would be filming it and taking pictures.”
Welcome to playing in the Big Apple, Tim, where every move will be followed, dissected and scrutinized like nowhere else.
And just wait until the games actually start.
“Sometimes it does get a little comical and funny to me,” Tebow said. “For the most part, I try not to think about it or worry about or pay attention to it. I really just try to be myself and live as much of a normal life as I can without having any of this change who I am or what I do or why I do it, and it’s something I take pride in.”
And that means, he’ll take his shirt off again if he wants to. Just as he used to do at times at the University of Florida and while playing for the Denver Broncos.
“I’m not going to change that,” he said, laughing.
Tebow had perhaps his best day of camp Monday, unofficially going 4 for 6 with a sack in team drills. He heard it from offensive coordinator Tony Sparano on one incompletion — a deep pass to Chaz Schilens — for not checking down. He also had a 25-yard scramble that excited the crowd.
“Getting more comfortable by the day,” he said. “I think just the plays and everything, that’s the easy part.”
Rex Ryan wants to see the quarterbacks get rid of the ball faster, a common knock on Tebow, who has worked on his mechanics all offseason. The Jets coach plans to start using practice buzzers to speed things up, just as they did last season after Sanchez struggled against Baltimore in Week 4.
“We did it last year a little,” Ryan said. “We’re going back to it, though.”
The Jets have yet to work on the wildcat package with Tebow, sticking to the base offense for now. The trickery will come, and Tebow — as Sanchez’s do-it-all backup — will be ready for anything.
“I just look forward to whatever opportunities I get,” Tebow said, smiling. “Whatever my role is, I have fun doing anything out there. That’s just my attitude. It’s how I’ve always been.”