Camp Countdown '09: Quarterbacks
For the third time in the last four years the main story going into training camp will be who is the Quarterback on the New York Jets. All eyes in camp will be focused on rookie star Mark Sanchez. The Jets have made a huge investment in the USC star and expect him to be the guy that finally fills the shoes of Joe Namath. Sanchez is a likable guy with a star quality about him. He has a solid arm and is an accurate passer, but has limited experience at the collegiate level and may not be ready for the NFL in 2009. The Jets know that bringing a rookie into the limelight too early can have disastrous consequences if he struggles badly in front of the home crowd, and New York is about as unforgiving a market as there is for failure.
Kellen Clemens has the advantage of having been in this offensive scheme for four years. He is familiar with the personnel and has actual in game playing time at the pro level. Clemens has been in this position before, however, and did not distinguish himself in a battle against Chad Pennington in 2008. He played poorly in his one half season under center and the clock is ticking on his career. His receivers seem to have a problem catching the football from him, he has been inaccurate in the past, and his arm is inconsistent at best. If Clemens can not win the starting jod in 2009 its unlikely he will ever get a chance to start again in the league barring injuries. His contract expires at the end of the season and these next two months will likely determine where his ends up after this season.
Behind those two will likely be a mini battle for the 3rd string QB. Eric Ainge, drafted in the 5th round of the 2008 draft, was fortunate to have made the team last season. Ainge was suspended for steroids in 2009 and never seemed to grasp any part of the offense., eventually being put on the injured reserve list so they didn’t have to release him mid season. Chris Pizzotti was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Harvard. Pizzotti seems to have caught the eye of the coach during OTAs and will have a chance to make the roster if he shows progress during camp. He would likely be a strong candidate for the practice squad if he did not make the team.
If the Jets can get anything out of the QB position this year they could make a run at the playoffs. Nobody is expecting much and it’s unlikely that either Clemens or Sanchez will be given the green light the way the team gave it to Brett Favre and Chad Pennington over the last three seasons. The primary job of the QB is going to be to protect the football and be somewhat efficient. The Jets offense is seemingly designed for multiple interceptions, however, and that does not bode well for either player, especially the rookie.
Make no mistake about it, this is Mark Sanchez’ football team. The question will be if its his team on September 13, 2009 or not. It is a rarity that the rookie starts from week 1 in the NFL as only a handful of players have done so in the last 10 years. It is highly debatable if there is any advantage to the “trial by fire” approach of bringing a rookie in so early. That said, Rex Ryan has been around a culture of football that did believe in starting a rookie. His Baltimore Ravens started Kyle Boller in 2003 and Joe Flacco in 2008 both as true rookies. While it is certainly arguable that either contributed much to the team, the Ravens won their divisions both times, mainly behind a strong defense and a commitment to a strong running game. These are the two traits Ryan has emphasized from the day he was named head coach and it is likely he is going to put his faith in Sanchez very early on.