On Wednesday, Jets head coach Rex Ryan believed that Mark Sanchez's sore throwing shoulder was only a minor roadblock in the buildup for Sunday's matchup between two 10-4 teams as the Green & White travel to Chicago to face the Bears.
But Ryan reworked his percentages down from 99 percent to somewhere in the 80 to 90 percent range today after Sanchez was limited in practice again and lightly throwing during practice at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.
"Before we're going be comfortable with him going out there as the starting quarterback, he has to improve," Ryan said. "Now do we think he will? We do, we do think he'll be better."
Sanchez, the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft, has thrown for 3,022 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, while also rushing for three scores. And in the Jets' thrilling 22-17 victory over the Steelers on Sunday, he protected the football and made good throws despite injuring the shoulder early in the game. In practice this week, he's been cautious with his arm.
"I still think he's going to play," Ryan said. "I was shocked a lit bit, the fact that he played the game, he looked great and all that. I think I made an assumption that probably I shouldn't have but I still think he's going to play. But today, to me, I expected more zip on the football."
Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer echoed Ryan's sentiments about Sanchez, saying that in the early going in practice their young quarterback was trying to loosen up his arm with some softer throws. As the practice progressed, Coach Schotty said that while a bit uncomfortable, Sanchez took the majority of reps and improved throughout the day.
"I think that as he got going a little bit, he looked pretty good," Schottenheimer said. "Again, I think a lot of it was just precaution. They're being smart. It's just a few days after the game. I think they're just taking their time with this thing."
If Sanchez can't go on Sunday, the job will go to 18-year veteran Mark Brunell, who has thrown for 31,000-plus yards and 182 touchdowns in his career. He is 1-for-1 for 7 yards in his only action this season, late in the blowout win over the Bills in Week 4. To shake off some of the rust, Brunell has taken a good number of reps this week in practice.
"I got some work this week," Brunell said, "on some new concepts that we had, on third down and some situational things that we did. I feel good about the game plan, I think it's a good game plan. It's just a matter of going out there and, if given the opportunity, executing it."
Schottenheimer said Sanchez grimaced when he came off the field after the play that he twisted his shoulder, the late-first-quarter zero-yard sack by James Farrior, but got a few throws in on the sideline and that one of his first throws after the injury was deep down the sideline to Braylon Edwards for a 38-yard completion. Despite Sanchez's ability to finish the game and the current plan to hold the weekly Friday quarterback meeting with Sanchez, Schottenheimer has thought about the notion that Brunell might have to be the guy on Sunday.
"We really don't change that differently," Schottenheimer said. "Whoever the quarterback is, he doesn't have to do it all. If you look at the line that we have and look at the backs, Shonn [Greene] and LT [LaDainian Tomlinson] getting 100 yards against the front we just played was pretty good. You don't have time to worry about it. I expect Mark [Sanchez] to answer the call. I think he's tough, I think he wants to play, he knows the importance of this game. But I also know Mark Brunell will be ready if he has to go."
It's not just Schottenheimer who has trust in Brunell. The head coach also is confident that his backup is a heady veteran who would be able to manage the offense. The only difference is that it will be a left-hander — in fact, one of the most prolific southpaws in NFL history— running the offense.
"He's smart. He's done it all," Ryan said. "We're not talking about a guy who never did it in his career. This guy was a Pro Bowl quarterback for a number of years. I feel comfortable with Mark Brunell."