Four months and one day after the New York Jets selected Mark Sanchez with the No. 5 overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, head coach Rex Ryan tabbed the 21-year-old as his starting quarterback.
"This comes with a lot of responsibility," Sanchez told reporters after today's practice as the No. 1 quarterback at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. "I know as happy as I am, this is just the beginning and I'm really excited to get the chance to play with such great players."
In the Jets' two preseason games to date, Sanchez completed six of 12 passes for 127 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and he will make his second summer start Saturday night when the Jets "visit" the Giants. But today's decision meant he'll be the guy in Houston on Sept. 13 as the Jets kickoff their 50th campaign.
"This is something I've always wanted to do. Dreams are coming true now and it's a special opportunity," he said. "With that opportunity comes a ton of responsibility — to this team, this organization and to the community here."
At Southern Cal, Sanchez got accustomed to the spotlight last season while throwing for 3,207 yards and 34 touchdowns. He is heady and athletic, blessed with a strong arm, great feet and intangibles.
The Jets, assembling a package that included three veteran players and a pair of draft picks, moved up 12 spots in the draft to get him because they think he is a franchise quarterback. But there are no Washington States on the schedule and the pressure will mount from a fan base craving for a return to the playoffs and a second championship.
"It's an all-around job, on the field and off the field," Sanchez said. "Right now the task at hand is getting ready for the Giants and that means staying after and studying — just like I have, just preparing to be the starter. And now I'm the starter and right now I need to act like it."
Sanchez made his first pro start on Monday night in Baltimore. Facing an elite pro defense for the first time, Sanchez's first pass was returned for a touchdown and his second toss should have probably had the same result. There was also a pair of delay-of-game penalties and a bobbled handoff with Leon Washington in his two quarters of action.
But Sanchez's fifth and final drive of the evening resulted in a touchdown when he connected with Washington for a 19-yard scoring hookup.
"When you look at the game, there were some things that need to be fixed," he said of his action in the 24-23 loss. "Obviously, mental errors, delay-of-game penalties, things like that … but I think what the organization and obviously Coach Rex was really excited about was the way I bounced back."
The adage used to be that you can't win with a rookie quarterback. But that changed last year when Matt Ryan starred as a rookie in leading the Falcons to a playoff berth and Joe Flacco played solid enough to help the Ravens come within one win of a Super Bowl berth.
And the Jets have LG Alan Faneca, who experienced great success with a youngster in Pittsburgh as the Steelers reached the AFC Championship Game in Ben Roethlisberger's rookie year and then "won one for the thumb" in the signalcaller's second season.
"The decision has been made and it's a chance for us to move forward," Faneca said. "You move from training camp back to Florham Park and the transition kind of begins with that decision. Everyone was waiting, so we're slowly progressing to the season."
While Faneca will be there for Sanchez to use as a sounding board, the veteran lineman is not planning on overloading him with information.
"You give a little bit. You can't cloud the mind, you can't bombard him," he said. "You have to let a guy be who he is and find out who he is and who he wants to be. You can help guide him and push him in the right direction, but it's his journey."
This is an entirely new road for the Jets altogether as Sanchez is set to be the franchise's first rookie quarterback to open a season. But with a "Ground & Pound" offensive philosophy and a menacing defense, the Jets don't plan on putting too much on his plate.
"I've never started with a rookie quarterback," said FB Tony Richardson, who's entering his 15th NFL season. "It's a first time, but I think he has all the skills and abilities to be very special. It's all about the guys around him to help him be successful."