Mark Sanchez hasn't slipped up much recently, but he came close this week when referencing Mark Brunell. The 40-year-old Brunell, an 18-year vet, is Sanchez's backup but the rising second-year pro came awfully close to referring to him as Coach Brunell in his weekly news conference.
"Everything he's done is good," Sanchez said of the graybeard. "He's like an oracle. He's pretty sharp."
Brought in to help mentor Sanchez, Brunell has turned out to be one of the Jets' most underrated offseason acquisitions as the young franchise signalcaller continues to mature before our eyes.
"From what I've seen from the beginning of training camp to now has been incredible — he's becoming a better passer, he's becoming a better leader, he's understanding the system more and more, and I can't say enough about the guy," Brunell said. "We've won seven games, we're 7-2 and a lot of that is because he's doing a great job and he'll only get better. His work ethic is great, he has a positive attitude and he cares about this group in the locker room."
Sanchez has flourished on the run of late, remaining calm during rush hour in the pocket and lengthening plays with some sound footwork. He credited Brunell this week for introducing a bat drill at practice.
"We have two foam bats," Brunell said, "and we just knock each other silly with them and we try to simulate the quarterback in the pocket. The quarterback is always getting the ball hit, he's getting hit and we're trying to emphasize ball security while at the same time keeping your eyes downfield and moving in the pocket and moving your feet. It's a good drill. I think it's helped Mark and hopefully it will continue. But it's just one of the many drills we do out there with the quarterbacks."
Brunell, who backed up Drew Brees from 2008-09 in New Orleans, is the only Jet to claim a championship last February. Brees liked the bat drill and Brunell though it would go over well with the Jets' young QB and it has.
While Brunell isn't going to win too many footraces now, he was tremendous with his feet in his heyday and has rushed for 2,421 yards in his career. Sanchez has rushed for just 138 yards in his 24 career regular-season starts, but he appears plenty comfortable while moving about.
"He's very athletic, he has good feet and you have to know when to use your feet and when to just throw it away and move onto the next play," Brunell said. "But he's been very smart in that area, he's been smart with the football and he's been buying some time to allow those receivers to get open and make some plays. It's really helped us, it will continue to help us. It starts with his athletic ability and getting a feel for the game. He's very competitive, so he's always out there making big plays. Again, I think that will be something that we'll see the rest of the season."
Sanchez, who owns both a better interception total (he's on pace for 11 after throwing 20) and interception percentage (2.0 as compared to 5.5) than last year, also has impressed with his play-action passing and overall handling of the rock.
"He's very good with his play actions, his ball fakes and ball security. We do a lot of drills to make sure that ball doesn't come out," said Brunell. "And that coupled with being smart with your decisions in the pocket and throwing to our team and not the other team — he's been very effective. We're fortunate to have him and what I'm thrilled about is he's a young kid who's only going to get better."