The Jets may be wearing the offseason crown of a paper champion after all their headline-nabbing transactions, but Mark Sanchez is confident he has the formula to turn that momentum into on-field chemistry.
Banking on the second-year quarterback’s progress, Gang Green added two offensive weapons for Sanchez in receiver Santonio Holmes and running back LaDainian Tomlinson. And the 23-year-old Sanchez is dedicated to running with it and building a familial dynamic on offense.
“When we’re not throwing and working out, it’s important to just hang out,” Sanchez said. “Not just in the film room and in the facility, but you [have to] go to dinner with them. Not as a chore, but it’s something you want to get to know these guys.”
That means planning to vacation with his receivers this offseason, “either in California, or somewhere else,” Sanchez said. Developing a rapport with his teammates and learning his receivers’ preferences takes as much precedence as forging the friendship.
“When it’s the heat of the moment, it’s the fourth quarter, tensions are raised, [and] guys are yelling back and forth, you know it’s never personal. … You know there’s that deep bond — that love between you guys — and know that it’s all about winning this game. Nothing’s ever personal.”
But what is becoming personal is the growing sentiment among pundits that the Jets have added too many volatile personalities that will be more explosive in the locker than on the field. Being cognizant of a player’s history and indiscretions is fine, but it undermines the environment coach Rex Ryan and his players have worked on for more than a year.
There are no opportunities to be disruptive on a team where the leadership is unified in achieving a common goal.
“With the Jets, it’s a family-like atmosphere,” Sanchez explained. “These guys support you to the very end. There’s no greater testament to that as when we go through that slump during the season, and it’s not like the whole team was playing poorly. It was me.”
Those are days Sanchez plans to leave behind him. Much like receiver Jerricho Cotchery, Sanchez recognizes the potential for a more explosive offense. Combining the Jets’ newest acquisitions with returning running back Leon Washington creates a semblant pick-your-poison conundrum for opposing defenses next season.
Second-year running back Shonn Greene figures to carry the Jets’ league-leading rush attack. Leon Washington and Tomlinson are both threats in space, either as receivers out of the backfield, or through the holes created by the offensive line. And Dustin Keller is excited about the opportunities he’ll find as a pass-catching tight end with so much attention focused on the receivers.
“I think [Holmes and Tomlinson] are guys that can touch the ball behind the line of scrimmage — four or five yards, even — and take it the distance. Losing Leon early last year was tough on us. We didn’t have that big-time, explosive back, and we made due,” Sanchez said. “I think they all add to everything we bring to the table. It’s going to be a fun year for us.”
With the 2010 NFL Draft on the horizon, Sanchez also recollected his memories of the experience and the anxiety he felt until being picked fifth-overall. After expecting to be selected by Seattle with the fourth pick, Sanchez spoke of his confusion between the time the Seahawks selected Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry and the phone call from general manager Mike Tannenbaum following the trade with Cleveland.
Now that a new crop of rookies are slated to come into Florham Park, Sanchez explained the kind of environment new players will enter after this weekend.
“Only thing I can compare it to is what I know, what he had at [the University of Southern California]. It was a family, it wasn’t just a team. Guys here are very supportive,” Sanchez said. “You take your lumps physically and verbally; they get into you a little bit. But at the same time, that’s just part of earning your stripes and growing up in this league. … It’s the most supportive you could ever imagine a team to be. Any rookie that comes to our team, they’re going to be very happy and excited to be with us.”