The Jets' quarterback competition doesn't have an incumbent or a challenger. Both veteran Kellen Clemens and rookie Mark Sanchez are running for an open seat and this summer race is going to be decided over a long haul.
"What we're doing right now obviously is Kellen is getting the majority of the work with the ones, Mark gets most of the work with the twos," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said Monday afternoon. "We allow them to look at most of the scripts before and really steal a couple plays from each period. That's just set up so that we can balance the reps and we get some consistency going."
Clemens, in his third QB battle in four pro training camps, has never won an NFL competition. Even though his eight pro starts came in a 2007 season when Chad Pennington was injured, Clemens does not appear the least bit snakebitten.
"I've put the entire competition in the coaches' hands. Between Coach Schottenheimer, Coach Ryan, Mr. Johnson and Mike Tannenbaum, they're going to make the decision that they feel is best for this football team," he said after Monday's early practice. "I trust them to do what they think is best. I'm focused on improving myself and improving my teammates because we've set the goal to be world champions. That's what we're all working hard at."
The 26-year-old Clemens, who's been mentored by Schottenheimer his entire career, has better command of the offense at this point and that should be expected. His early results in camp have been mixed, with solid strikes followed by what Schotty labels "ill-advised interceptions." The 6'2", 221-pound Oregon product has also exhibited good generalship in two-minute situations.
"I like the way the offense is moving the ball up and down the field. A couple of times we've faltered going into the red zone but that will come," said a confident Schotty. "The whole offense is built on protecting the football and we want to do that, but at this point there's no cause for concern, in my opinion."
As time progresses, look for Sanchez to get more time with the ones. He'll have to earn his opportunity for those valuable snaps, but the Jets wouldn't have moved up in the first round if they didn't like his approach.
"I think that's something we definitely want to do," Schottenheimer said of giving Sanchez more time with the first unit. "We're not going to put a timetable on it. We're just a couple of practices in. A big part of it — like any rookie or player — is that you have to earn those reps. So as Mark continues to get more comfortable and continues to grow, which he's doing, we'll make sure we give him some more work."
On just the third day of camp Sunday, the Jets gave their heralded 6'2", 225-pound rook a few snaps with that top unit.
"That means the world to me. You want it to happen as much as possible," said a grateful Sanchez. "I'm right in Schotty's hip pocket and right next to Kellen as he's calling the plays in the huddle and getting as close to taking those first-team reps as possible. As soon as they come my way, that's when you really need to make a move in this whole thing."
Brimming with confidence, Sanchez has looked fantastic at times and like an unsure first-year performer on other occasions.
"I think I'm making some really good throws and some good decisions," he said. "I'm keeping the turnovers to a minimum and doing my best. I'm running with the twos right now, so I'm doing the very best I can with that. Whenever I get the opportunities, I'm just trying to make plays."
The transition to the pro game for a quarterback is a difficult jump. Sanchez, who completed 64.3 percent of his passes and threw 41 TD passes at Southern Cal, is a heady youngster, but there is much to learn in the Schottenheimer playbook.
"He's really comfortable with his reads," said the coordinator. "The big thing with him is that we do a lot of things that we call 'combination footwork' and that's just depending on what the read is, he's got to adjust his feet. There are still some times he'll take seven steps when he's supposed to take five, so therefore he's a little bit late. But he's really picked up the reads really well.
"Then obviously with the running game, that's a little bit new for him — some of the things we've asked him to do in the running game about accessing things and making some changes. So that's something that he needs to work on."
Still very early in the process, the Jets likely won't tab a starting quarterback for a few weeks. Rex Ryan will pick the player who gives his club the better chance to win and the vacancy is clearly there for the taking.
"This is fun," Sanchez said. "It's been like this every off-season coming from college and I expect that anywhere in the NFL. There are great quarterbacks all over. Everybody's just waiting for their shot and that's what Kellen and I are doing as well. We're battling it out and being friends about it."