Camp Countdown '10: Quarterbacks
For only the second time in the last five years, the Jets will be entering training camp with a set starter at the Quarterback position.
Mark Sanchez had an up and down rookie campaign as he navigated his way through a season filled with many ups and downs,
but his level of play rose in the playoffs and it has created high expectations for the young star.
Sanchez is coming off of off-season knee surgery and every throw, good and bad, that he makes in camp and in the preseason
is going to be dissected much in the way Chad Pennington's were in 2005 when he returned from an arm injury. Sanchez is going to have to learn to deal with fielding questions every day about his knee especially if he has a poor practice and is bombarded with questions and comments about not being able to really move right and plant on his leg.
This is an important camp for Sanchez for reasons beyond the physical development of the franchise. Camp is the place where the team really bonds and leaders are born. While there are many reasons why the Jets dumped LG Alan Faneca and RB Thomas Jones, one reason that is overlooked is that they were locker room leaders and the Jets do not want their young core, in particular Mark Sanchez, to grow reliant on the veterans. The Jets did not draft Sanchez for him to be just another voice in the huddle or the locker room. They want him to be the voice in the huddle and in the locker room. That journey begins this camp for Mark as starts to make this his team.
Beyond Sanchez there are a few interesting QB battles that should go on in camp. The Jets retained the services of Kellen Clemens as a backup, but all signs point to the Jets being interested in signing veteran Mark Brunell to be the team backup. The Jets will be permitted to sign Brunell in late July and it should be his job to lose once that happens. Brunell is an interesting choice to bring in as a mentor to Sanchez. In his prime Brunell was a gifted player with a similar skillset to Sanchez. He was very mobile, had a good arm, could throw on the run, and is a similar size and body type to Sanchez. Not only can he tutor Sanchez on playing the position, but can explain to him some of the finer points of protecting his body.
One of the Jets major concerns with Sanchez last season was his, at times, reckless approach to the game that seemed to open him up for injury. Brunell's playing style was similar and he took a beating as a starter in the league. People may not remember this, but before Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, and Michael Vick redefined what people considered a “running QB”, Brunell was considered one of the most dangerous runners at the position. That also cost him as he rarely played 16 games a year and his peak in the NFL was pretty short. Despite being in the NFL for 17 years, Brunell's peak was only 6 seasons. The Jets expect much more for Sanchez, but if he continues to take the punishment by not caring for his body he may not last much longer. Brunell can hopefully help him in that regard.
Does this mean Clemens will be cut as soon as Brunell is signed? Probably not. At Brunell's age you always have to worry about retirement and the Jets will want to keep all their options open in the event that happens two weeks into training camp. Clemens certainly has not progressed the way the Jets had hoped and has looked bad in his regular season opportunities, but he may view this as one last chance to get into some preseason games and make a few throws that catches the interest of another team. Clemens believes he can still start in the NFL if he finds the right situation, so he will likely be viewing camp and the preseason as an audition to continue his career somewhere else. The Jets may approach him about being a 3rd string QB, but if he declines the Jets will likely release him if they can not find a trade partner.
At the bottom of the pile is Eric Ainge and Kevin O'Connell. Ainge was drafted by the team in 2008 and has really hung on by a thread in that time. His draft status and the fact that the Jets believe all QB's have trade value are the only reasons he made the team in 2008. He did flash in the 2009 preseason and will have to do so again to continue his NFL career. O'Connell was acquired via trade from the Lions last season and it was assumed he was picked up just to use for knowledge about the Patriots, who he had been a part of since being drafted, but O'Connell remained on the team all season much to everyone's surprise.
The way the Jets front office values this position really puts the team in a hole. The last two years the Jets have decided to keep four active QB's on the roster, which is really too many as the fourth QB is completely useless. But, it should surprise nobody if they do the same again. Sanchez is a lock and Brunell is likely a lock if he signs. It would be a good assumption that as soon as GM Mike Tannenbaum has it on good authority that Brunell is arriving that he will begin initiating trade discussions about his other three players. He will probably instruct the coaching staff to get these guys as much preseason game time as possible to showcase them for trade. If he finds no takers Clemens will probably be the guy on the outside looking in. Not only does he make the most money, but the Jets will likely not control his rights in 2011, whereas Ainge and O'Connell are both under contract to the team in 2011. That makes Clemens expendable, since the other two can still be held for trade in 2011. Expect the team to enter the season with Sanchez, Brunell, Ainge, and O'Connell all on the active roster for 2010.
On a side note I am trying something new with a comments section. A few people have emailed me about trying something like this so if I can Ill set this up for the rest of the camp countdowns I do and if it works out Ill try to get better software to run the comments than this one.
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