The difference between confidence and arrogance is paper-thin. And trying to prove you belong while not giving off an air of entitlement is no easy task.
The Jets didn’t trade up for Mark Sanchez so that he’d tiptoe around training camp and try not to offend. But the rookie from USC is toeing a blurry line between hopeful and overbearing as he competes with Kellen Clemens for the No. 1 job in New York.
Sanchez is a good kid. He’s eager and earnest and presents himself well. But he’s in a tough spot. He has to give off a leadership air without acting like he actually invented the position. He has to show respect for Clemens while trying to trump everything Clemens does.
And there are allegiances Sanchez will have to overcome.
Thursday night, after Sanchez impressed in an intrasquad scrimmage, Jets left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson was asked about the rookie’s performance.
“When I get a chance to come out and see Mark do his thing, it’s nice when he can move the ball up the field,” Ferguson began.
Then Ferguson changed course. “Kellen Clemens obviously is a phenom. I came in with him and he’s utilizing his experience behind Brett Favre, Chad Pennington and the other quarterbacks that were here. I think he’s doing a great job of utilizing those tools that they passed on and applying them to his game now.”
Asked if he had a preference about who wins the job, Ferguson said, “I don’t have a preference. You have experience, you have youth. There are pros and cons with each one. However, I’m glad that’s not my decision. My authority ends with me. But both are quality QBs.”
Ferguson made his point. And it’s not an unusual one.
Veteran quarterbacks have a predictable level of play. It may not be a high level of play, but it’s predictable. Rookie quarterbacks can fluctuate. Wildly. And for a team like the Jets which has the talent to get to and make some noise in the playoffs, veterans worry about that.
Then-Steelers guard Alan Faneca was asked if it was exciting to see Roethlisberger get a chance.
“Exciting?” said Faneca. “No, it’s not exciting. Do you want to go work with some little young kid who’s just out of college?"
The Steelers went on to go 15-1 and make the AFC Championship with Roethlisberger. Vindication? Not entirely. In the AFC Championship, Big Ben let it get out of hand early, getting picked three times as the Patriots routed Pittsburgh.
Faneca is now with the Jets and while he hasn’t made any comments resembling what he said in 2004, the fact remains that he felt that way before and — ultimately — was proven right.
There is no shame in sitting. Carson Palmer, a Heisman Trophy winner at USC, didn’t take a snap with the Bengals as a rookie in 2003. And he was the No. 1 overall pick and threw 1,569 passes in 53 games for the Trojans. Sanchez threw 487 passes in 16 career games at USC. And he is doing everything but handing out “Sanchez For Starter” buttons in the stands.
After diving past linebacker Bart Scott for a touchdown in practice earlier this week, Sanchez said, “I think you like that (intensity) … I think (Scott) kind of admitted the fact that, ‘Hey, this guy’s going for it. Whether he’s young or not, he’s going to take it.’ ”
Scott, who was adhering to the “don’t hit the quarterback in practice” rule, didn’t sound as appreciative. “That’s a bad career decision. Once you roll out, I might blank out. I don’t know what the red jersey means sometimes.”
Scott was being good-natured but Sanchez showed him up on the play. And, judging by Sanchez’ comments, you have to wonder how calculated little things like that are. They call it false hustle.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan has handled the quarterback competition well. He’s allowed Clemens the first reps with the starters and is sprinkling in Sanchez. As Sanchez impresses — as he did Thursday night — he’ll likely get more.
“I’d like to have a starter sooner rather than later,” Ryan said. “But we’re not just going to name a guy the starter when we haven’t given the opportunity to compete yet.”
Sanchez knows how to compete. He was very crisp Thursday night, completing 9 of 15 with four of those incompletions being drops.
He dripped enthusiasm when it was over.
“We had like an hour just to relax (before the scrimmage),” he said. “We had a team meal. I couldn't eat anything. I had like a bite of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was like game day, I was in game mode, I put in the iPod and just laid down for a little bit and came out ready to work and was really on today, I felt great. . . .
"This is the coolest thing that can ever happen. It's pretty special. At the end of the day, you lay your head down at night and (you're) an NFL quarterback, that's all you ever wanted to be. Don’t ever forget that. Don’t ever forget that giddiness you get before games. That’s all real and fun and that’s why you do it. It’s wonderful.”
Sanchez has momentum. The fans and media are captivated by him. He's got charisma and magnetism.
And there is no arguing that Mark Sanchez is the Jets quarterback of the future. But he wants to be the quarterback of the immediate future. Now. Today. Yesterday. But if he wants to get the backing of his teammates — and Clemens — he needs to remember three words every quarterback knows by heart. Don’t force it.
PFT: Jets RB Mike Goodson was charged with five gun and drug counts Friday morning, after New Jersey State Police found the car he was riding in parked in the middle of Route 80 in Denville, N.J.
Previewing the 2009 season
Ten teams who will rebound from 2008, our All-Pros, players ready to star and more.
2013 SNF Schedule
Check out the 2013 Sunday Night Football schedule.
Latest from ProFootballTalk
Video: Football from NBC Sports
Chudzinski: 'Too early' to name a QB
Following Thursday's OTA, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski speaks to the media about his team’s brewing quarterback controversy. He feels the competition will aid in each QB’s progression as a passer, but he isn’t ready to name a starter for Week 1.
Check out some of the NFL cheerleaders from across the league.