On a blazing Sunday morning here in Cortland, N.Y., Jets PR head Bruce Speight huddled with reporters inside a media tent following practice and told them that Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez will start his first NFL game on Monday night, Aug. 24, in Baltimore against the Ravens.
And when the scribes got a chance to visit both competitors in this latest Jets quarterback battle, Sanchez and Kellen Clemens took head coach Rex Ryan's decision in stride.
Clemens, who completed all four of his passes Friday night in the 23-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams, said he's remaining focused on matters that he can control.
"I want to start every game. My job is to go out, get completions and make good decisions," he said. "Who starts is out of my control beyond that."
Moments after Clemens departed the tent, Sanchez, who electrified the Meadowlands with his 48-yard spiral to David Clowney on his first pro pass attempt, was asked if he was excited.
"Sure. It's just a matter of the rotation, though," he said, downplaying the nod. "Nothing's changed yet and it's just the way that things shake out. Of course, I'm excited."
In two series of work against the Rams, Clemens turned the ball over once and also directed a scoring drive. He didn't see Leonard Little whip by backup RT Wayne Hunter and a strip-sack led to a Rams field goal. But K.C. came back on the field and led a 10-play, 61-yard possession that resulted in a 33-yard Jay Feely boot to even the score.
"Things went well. I would have liked to have converted that final third down. We came real close," said Clemens, who connected with Chansi Stuckey for 5 yards on third-and-6 from the St. Louis 20. "Obviously, we would have liked to get six instead of three on that drive. But on a whole, the grade sheet was pretty positive."
Sanchez, who entered the game with 28 seconds left in the second quarter, took eight snaps Friday and the final one was a handoff to Thomas Jones for a 1-yard TD plunge. The QB completed three of four passes for 88 yards on a memorable 93-yard march.
"The checks were good. There were only eight or nine plays, so it was a good series," Sanchez said. "There was one run footwork thing where I have to step off and those are the little things that you have to clean up if you want to be great. There's still hard coaching from it, if anything, just to get quicker and faster and let the ball go sooner because I'm going to need it this week."
Consider Baltimore as the young rookie's big early test. Sure, it's preseason, but you know the Ravens will want to show Ryan that they'll be all right without their former coordinator and a trio of Birds — ILB Bart Scott, S Jim Leonhard and DE Marques Douglas — who all flew north in the off-season. The Ravens shut out Washington to open their preseason and presented Ryan's replacement, Greg Mattison, with a game ball.
"If you could do anything against that bunch, you could move it against anybody. Baltimore and Pittsburgh have been the best defenses in this league for a long time," said Ryan. "I have confidence in our offense, but it's going to be a great challenge. Yes, it would count for more than moving against St. Louis. No disrespect to St. Louis, but they aren't the Ravens, they aren't Pittsburgh."
Directing the first offense this morning, Sanchez was uneven. The team drills got off to an ominous start when the normally sure-handed Chansi Stuckey dropped a catchable ball from No. 6 and that play was followed by a miscommunication with Jerricho Cotchery and a shared sack by DT Sione Pouha and OLB Vernon Gholston.
While he was turnover-free, Sanchez should have been picked by S Jim Leonhard on a ball that Kerry Rhodes accidentally deflected away from his backfield mate. And one of his completions actually went to Speight, the Jets' PR head, when the strong-armed passer ran out of options and sailed the rock out of play.
"I don't think we had the best practice possible from a quarterback unit — myself personally, not as sharp," Sanchez said. "I missed a couple of plays in the two-minute that I think I should have had, and the [mis-]communication with Brad Smith. He ran the right route and I missed him. We just have to get on the same page there. That's what happens when you go from preseason back to playing our defense. It was a good wakeup."
The Jets would like to have a starting quarterback in place as soon as possible, but they don't have a set clock. Sanchez will see more action in this second game but just how much? Ryan ruled Alan Faneca (finger) out of action and both C Nick Mangold (knee) and RT Damien Woody (head) are still not back practicing.
Regardless of who is on the field for the nationally televised game, the young phenom and the Green & White's first-string offense are going to get a stern test and the heat only promises to rise.
"I have my work cut out for me, and that's why it wouldn't be right of me or anyone at my position to make this the make-or-break game. It's not that way at all," said Sanchez. "Just be relaxed and poised and play, and go through my checks and my reads just like I have, and build on the last game. I think that's most important, to build on it and get better. There's still plenty of stuff to clean up from just one drive."