Tony Sparano is a no-nonsense coach and one of his primary charges as the Jets' new offensive coordinator will be to cut down turnovers from the quarterback position. He praised all three Green & White signalcallers — starter Mark Sanchez, backup Tim Tebow and third-stringer Greg McElroy — today while stressing the importance of ball security.
"We have to do a better job taking care of the football from our end — we know that and it's something we're talking about daily in our meetings and with our coaches," said Sparano during a conference call with beat reporters. "And it's something we'll put a tremendous amount of emphasis on when we get out on the practice field."
Sanchez accounted for 32 touchdowns last year (26 pass and six rush) but was victimized by 26 turnovers (18 INTs and eight lost fumbles) for a margin of plus-6. He established career-highs in yardage (3,474), completion percentage (56.7) and rating (78.2) while facing the most pressure in his career as he was sacked 39 times.
"If you take the turnovers out, this guy really played better last year. His numbers were better last year than the previous couple of years," Sparano said. "You saw improvement in a few areas which you really want to see.
"I think this guy is a young player who's won a lot of football games here, so I'm excited about where he is," the OC continued. "The only thing I can tell you right now is he has had a tremendous offseason. He's really got himself in good shape. He's come in here and really worked hard this offseason — physically and mentally —as well as in learning what we're doing, so I've been really impressed with him."
Sparano, who coached Tebow at the Senior Bowl two years ago, said the former Heisman Trophy winner's development at the position has been "eye-opening."
"I thought fundamentally Tim has gotten much better. You can see all the time he's spent at it and really this kid has put in a lot of time in the offseason from a fundamentals standpoint," he said. "He's completely different now than he was when he came out of college."
Choosing not to elaborate on Tebow's role in the offense, Sparano emphasized that the Jets can take multiple approaches with their new weapon.
"That's the great thing about having a player that has the flexibility that Tim has. Obviously our first goal here is to continue to work with Tim and continue to have him mature as a quarterback — that's what we're trying to do here," he said. "But with that being said, he comes with a different skill set obviously from college and I think that's a good thing for us. He has the ability to do a lot of different jobs, and at the game that's what you really want. You need players that are going to be able to do a lot of jobs for you."
When Sparano was head coach with the Dolphins, he had success running the Wildcat with both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in the backfield. His thinking was to get his best two athletes on the field at the same time and he credited Brown with being a sound decision maker. But the OC could have more options this time around.
"The difference was there was very little element of pass involved in that, where obviously with Tim that's a different element," he said. "If we decide to go down that road, the element of being able to throw the football out of that brings a complete different dynamic into the picture here."
Much has been made about the Sanchez/Tebow dynamic, but Sparano is not concerned about the pair moving forward.
"When you put both of these guys in a room and they're playing checkers, they're going to compete at it and they're going to go like heck to win. I think the more of those people you can get around your football team and in this environment, the better your football team is going to be," he said. "So I think we helped out team tremendously. I don't think it's a problem managing it and the two of them right now, along with Greg McElroy, have done a great job and [QBs coach] Matt Cavanaugh has really done a good job with them."
While McElroy was more of a traditional pocket passer at Alabama and has just a couple of preseason games on his pro résumé, Sanchez has good feet and doesn't mind getting out of the pocket while everyone in football knows Tebow's prowess on the go.
"Any of our quarterbacks right now really handles it well on the move," Sparano said. "That's one of the things going back and looking at Mark — he throws the ball very well on the move."
McElroy, who will once again vie for the third-string spot, has already impressed his new offensive boss.
"This guy is brilliant," Sparano said. "He really is a smart, smart player and I think that's important when you have young players at the position."