Let the games begin. And let the new Jets offense give signs that it is preparing for takeoff.
The first is happening all around the NFL as all 32 teams are in action this weekend. The second is what the Jets and their followers hope will happen in Cincinnati tonight, when Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow take the Paul Brown Stadium field, one after the other and even perhaps at the same time for a play or two, and give the first glimpse of how far they've come and how far they have to go in coordinator Tony Sparano's up-tempo scheme. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.
"We're moving along at a great pace," said Sanchez. "This will be another good test for us, a good measuring stick."
"Friday night is not the destination," Tebow said. "It's just another step in our journey to get better."
The Sanchez-Tebow alliance operates the offense for the first time in game conditions. Observers bring all different perspectives to what they want to see and not see from the merger of No. 6 and No. 15. One thing that many want, for instance, is a fully functional and effect Wildcat package. Head coach Rex Ryan and Sparano have given hints that Green & White fans will see some but not a lot of it vs. the Bengals defense.
"The Wildcat is something that Cincinnati needs to prepare for right now," said Ryan during the week, while Sparano replied, "We'll see. There's always a chance."
What Ryan and Sparano do want to see is more improvement as the Jets hurtle toward their season opener against the Bills on Sept. 9.
"I'm pretty excited about it, there's no doubt," the head coach said. "We don't have a lot of the things in that we're going to, but we've been working a long time and working hard at it. Let's see it up against another defense, and I'm excited to watch our guys compete."
"We've made good progress, really good progress along the way," the coordinator said. "We've gotten an awful lot done. We've got a long way to go here but we've still got some time. These guys are competing at a pretty high level right now out there."
One thing everyone has seen from Sanchez is a maturity level — that was one of the talking points of training camp at SUNY Cortland this week.
"I'm just much more comfortable right now and I can see the difference," Ryan said. "Last year I thought he had a great grasp of our system, I don't think there's any doubt. I just see the way he's interacting with all of the groups, the offensive line, the receivers, the backs, you name it, even the defense. I just see that side of Mark that maybe I never saw before.
"Mark doesn't really force anything," added TE Dustin Keller. "And what I mean by that is everything just comes so smooth. He doesn't have to yell over a group, because when he's talking, everybody's listening. And I think he's just getting that much more respect this year. And that comes with being more of a veteran and just showing the type of work that he's put in and guys respect that."
Do you feel more mature, Mark, as you start your fourth season at the Jets' offensive helm?
"Sure, as opposed to my rookie year — you just try to stay afloat," Sanchez said. "So I'm starting to anticipate some things, especially on the field. I feel a lot better, just better decisions, better accuracy, and that comes with playing and experience."
Not every throw or practice has been perfect, but some have been outstanding. Sanchez's passes are coming out with more zip and tightness and, yes, accuracy, such as when he was 4-for-4 in blitz-pickup period Wednesday, or when he went 7-for-9 with four third- and fourth-down conversions en route to the first offense's only touchdown of the Green & White Scrimmage on Saturday.
How Sanchez will look in his two or three series tonight remains to be seen, with WRs Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley sidelined with injuries and RT Wayne Hunter (back) possibly as well.
For Tebow, it's been a matter of absorbing his third new offense in three seasons while working on his passing mechanics that drive some media members and fans crazy. Some days this summer he's struggled, but he had his most accurate day of camp on Wednesday with several long, hard downfield connections.
"I felt like we did pretty well," he said. "As an offense, we moved the ball well. I think we did really well in the blitz period, did pretty well in the move-the-ball period and in the two-minute. I felt like overall it was a good day."
"The improvements he's made since the start of this, you're not going to see them necessarily but I see them quite a bit in his identification of fronts, his identification of coverages, going through progressions," Sparano said. "I think the ball every day is coming off of his hand a lot better. He's getting some of the quick-game stuff out faster, which is something they had not done a whole lot with him in the past. I see improvements from the guy every day."
There are plenty of other areas for the Jets coaches, players, fans and reporters to sink their teeth into with tonight's game. Sanchez and Tebow won't be doing it alone. This is still a ground-game-based offense and so Shonn Greene and the backs have to show some progress from the scrimmage.
Offensive and defensive players keep referring to the defense as "the best in the league." They'll get arguments from Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Houston, to name a few, but the signs on that side of the ball have been positive for a return toward their 2009 level when Ryan and DC Mike Pettine first arrived.
As for the specialists, Nick Folk and Josh Brown will kick their competition up a notch, and we'll get to see Tebow a few more times on coordinator Mike Westhoff's units.
But the pregame buzz belongs to the quarterbacks. So let the game begin.
The Jets have won 12 of their last 13 games against Cincinnati (3-0 preseason, 8-1 regular season, 1-0 playoffs). The only loss was at Paul Brown in '07. ... This is the first time the Jets will play the Bengals in back-to-back preseasons since playing them four summers in a row from 1983-86.
Sanchez has had great success vs. the Bengals over the years. He's 1-0 in preseason, 2-0 in regular season and 1-0 in the playoffs. ... Tebow's first game as a pro was the Broncos' 33-24 loss at Cincinnati to open the 2010 preseason. He described the last play of that game, a 7-yard TD scramble on which he tore an oblique muscle and two Bengals defenders also went down. Was it worth it? "Absolutely," Tebow said. "I mean, that's who I am. So yeah, it was fun."