Mark Sanchez says he's well aware of how nervous Jets fans of a certain age get when the talk turns to their starting quarterback and the state of his knees.
"I've heard quite a bit about Joe Namath already," Sanchez said with a laugh today in between bites of a ribeye lunch in the players' dining hall at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. "It's all right. It was pretty minor surgery. In comparison, I think it's a lot less dramatic and a lot less serious."
In his first public comments since undergoing the mid-February procedure on his left knee, Sanchez told newyorkjets.com that he's feeling fine, physically and mentally, and on target for a full summer leading the Jets into this most important second year of the Sanchez/Rex Ryan era.
"I'm rehabbing like crazy, a lot of physical therapy. I'm in close contact with Dr. [Ken] Montgomery and he's pleased with my progress," the quarterback said. "Really, we're on the same timetable. I'll absolutely be 100 percent by training camp and be ready to go for the season."
Sanchez acknowledged the operation could have been stressful and nerve-wracking for him, but the care provided by Dr. Montgomery, chairman of the Jets' medical department, and head athletic trainer John Mellody put him at ease.
"These guys, they have a history of getting players back on time, healthy and ready to go. I don't expect anything different," he said.
"I knew it was something I didn't want to have to worry about later on in my career, just get it knocked out, suck it up for a couple of weeks and then get better," he added of the kneecap issue that first arose before his last season at Southern Cal and flared up on his sideline slide and hit against Carolina. "This eliminates the possibility of that happening again. It just kind of gives you peace of mind as an athlete, like 'All right, that's one less thing.' "
"Staying Here, Being Around"
Perhaps the rehab also has a silver lining. Sanchez said that other than a four-day sojourn to the West Coast, he has spent innumerable hours at the team's state-of-the-art complex.
"I think this injury taught me a little about what needs to happen every offseason," he said. "Not the injury part, obviously, but staying here, being around. I almost wouldn't have known any better. I would've been home, maybe watched some film and kind of gotten into the playbook a little bit, but not as focused as I was here. This was my outlet."
He may have a point about the outlet part, but we suspect Sanchez would've been here anyway. He demonstrated those tendencies of being a gym rat/film buff/team leader when he first arrived less than a year ago as the Jets' fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft, and he's declared of North Jersey, "This is my home."
He also said that now that he has entered into his first full offseason as an NFL starting quarterback, not being that kind of leader was not an option.
"I don't know how else to explain it. It's just a grind but it's the good kind of grind that keeps you waking up, that keeps you excited," he said of his leadership mantle. "There's almost like a criterion you want to follow for being a quarterback, the right way to do things, and it's not just to follow in that mold but because you want to do it, you've got to want it really bad.
"You've got to want to become friends with these guys on that team that have just shown up. You've got to go out of your way, as weird as it sounds, to go sit in the cold tub, even if you just sat in the cold tub, with the new guy. Just talk to him: 'How's everything going? Do you need anything? We're going to see a movie. Want to come with us?' "
One player Sanchez can no longer talk with in the 45-degree pool is Thomas Jones, who's gone to Kansas City. That's another element of being a pro that Sanchez is fully experiencing for the first time, losing teammates that he went into battle with all the previous season. Sanchez said it was "tough" to lose Jones, a locker room neighbor and top-notch performer, and "bittersweet" in the sense that while Jones has departed, LaDainian Tomlinson has arrived.
"LaDainian? He's awesome," Sanchez said. "He looks in great shape. And it's not like he's playing behind an average group up front — our O-line is pretty good. It's going to be fun for him and he'll teach me a lot, just with the protections, and it'll help Shonn [Greene], it'll help Leon [Washington], it'll help Chauncey [Washington] learning from his experience."
"Pretty Special, What We've Got"
Now Sanchez is bringing his own experience to bear on the Jets' fortunes. He's surviving his first and what he no doubt hopes is his last offseason rehab. He hears occasionally from Namath, patron saint of the Green & White whose feedback has always been "supprtive" and "positive." He got through his first year's encounter with the passionate Jets fans intact.
And that's in large part because of the way the Jets tackled the 2009 campaign, which he said unfolded "almost like a tale of three seasons."
"We started off red-hot. Nobody could touch us. Then we go through that stretch that just was terrible. I was making bad decisions and not playing to my potential," he said.
"And at the end, when it was like a do-or-die situation, it turned into almost like that NCAA tournament going on right now — single-elimination, win and you're in. All we needed was a chance. Rex said, 'Just get us into the dance and I promise we can take this thing a long way.' "
Sanchez said he was no Final Four prodigy the past two weeks. His NCAA bracket sheet was busted a while back. But he and his knee are getting stronger every day and so is his football team as the Jets try to take two more steps than they took last season — a win in the title game, then a win in Super Bowl XLV.
"I don't think a lot of cafeterias around the league right now look like ours does right now," he said of the din coming from a good number of his teammates chowing down after another day of offseason work. "Like when LT came to visit, he saw a bunch of other running backs here, he saw quarterbacks working out already, he saw guys going out to movies, hanging out, getting dinner.
"It's not the same everywhere. That's not to say one team is better or worse than another, but this is pretty special, what we've got. So it's hard to leave, it's easy to stay around. Trust me, it's nice."