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The Mark Sanchez puzzle piece and the Week 1 Jets

We're still a ways out from Week 1, but now with the draft and most of the key parts of free agency behind us, it's a good time to see how each QB fits into the larger picture. This is part one of a two-part series, looking at what each QB could bring to the offense, with the other probable pieces in place.

The incumbent Mark Sanchez has a lot on his plate.

Not only is he a student of his third offensive coordinator, with this just his fifth season in the league, but he has become the fall man for all things wrong with this New York Jets team. 

It goes beyond criticism for Sanchez, there are those that would like nothing more than to see him fail—fans of his own team that want him to get knocked out of games. 

It hasn't always been this way, he was the promised man, the Sanchize, in 2009 and 2010, a piece of Jets teams that went to back-to-back AFC Championship games. But the party ended, and all that was left was a really bad hangover.

The offensive side of the 2009 Jets roster doesn't look too impressive on paper. David Clowney*, Jerricho Cotchery, Brad Smith, and Chansi Stuckey* sat atop the WR depth chart. TE Dustin Keller became his security blanket from day one, amassing 522 yards on 45 receptions and two touchdowns. The pair would gain an even stronger rapport in seasons to come. *Both currently free agents

The most glaring fact, however, is that the Jets ran the ball and played solid defense. Sanchez wasn't asked to do a lot, but he did what he was asked to do, and did it well enough to sustain some success. It wasn't pretty though—2444 yards on 196 completions, 12 TD's and 20 INT's, and a 53.8 completion percentage.

Maybe the pieces weren't right, and maybe he had some growing pains, especially after only one true year at USC. (More after the jump…)

In 2010, Sanchez was blessed with Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, and the returning Jericho Cotchery. The Flight Boys, as the trio would be nicknamed, would give Sanchez some much-needed support in the passing game. Sanchez would finish the year with 3291 yards on 278 completions. He would also be able to vastly improve his TD/INT ratio, with 17 TD's to 13 INT's, but still would have just a 54.8 completion percentage.

Now why all the history?

We can only know what we have in '13 Mark Sanchez by examining years one through four. I started with the glory days, to bring some reality to them, but year three Sanchez was the best yet. 

Stats from ESPN.com

The Jets went 8-8 in 2011, finishing 2nd in the AFC East and missing the playoffs, but it was Sanchez's best year on record. 

He threw the ball the most of any season, but he made the best choices of any other year when he did. It was his third year with OC Brian Schottenheimer, and maybe he was getting more comfortable with the offense.

Plaxico was a great red zone target, and Santonio Holmes returned as a more consistent option. From an outside-looking-in perspective, this season should have been more successful than .500. Maybe it was just the 'luck of the draw,' or maybe it was the locker room turmoil that shook a good team. 

Whatever the case, Schotty took the most prevalent blame, and was sent packaging, off of Sanchez's best season. 

No apologist here.

Still, Mark Sanchez's third season was not heavenly; let's be honest. He ranked 15th in the league in passing yards, behind the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Freeman. His completion percentage was 28th in the NFL, behind Rex Grossman, Kevin Kolb, and Colt McCoy.

See the trend? His best year, statically, was worse than some that are playing backup roles, today. It's not all about losing Schottenheimer in year four, not being in a passing offense, or not having the right weapons. At the end of the day, the production, in comparison to his peers, has just not been there. 

But that leads us to today, OTA's which'll soon enough bring us to Cortland and training camp, and the battle for the starting QB position. 

And, according to Sanchez, he's not letting his title leave him. 

I plan on playing, I plan on starting, said Sanchez. I'm confident, I'm ready to go. I can do it. I know I can.

It sounds similar to The Little Engine That Could, but I do like the confidence that Mark Sanchez has displayed as of late. Maybe he finally feels the heat of competition, who knows, but this really is the last opportunity for him.

If Geno Smith wins the shot in NY, these next couple of months might be his last with Gang Green, altogether.

What he has around him, and the expectations.

The excuses are over, Sanchez could be playing with the 1977 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and he'd be expected to play at the level of a true starting QB this year. Maybe it's unfair that, should he start, he'd have to play better than Geno Smith, but as a semi-veteran, and with these past couple of seasons' results, it's a reality. 

At WR, the Jets don't have flash, but their core is stronger than one may feel. Jeremy Kerley stepped up big time last season, leading the Jets in receiving yards (827), while Santonio Holmes went down with a season-ending foot injury during Week 4's game against the 49ers. Holmes will return to the field this season, and 2012 2nd round pick, Stephen Hill, looks to improve on what was a disappointing first season—a slow comprehension of route-running, dropped passes, and injury. The trio have potential to be successful, and sure look better than that '09 core Sanchez had.

Running back Chris Ivory joins the team from New Orleans, a back with huge upside, and high potential to start, but has been injury-prone and is very unproven. Also a newcomer, Mike Goodson, may be gone before he even plays a snap. Goodson was arrested on marijuana and gun charges, and his future with the Jets is unclear. John Idzik and company are letting the situation play out for now, and Goodson's talent in OTA's and following may save him.

Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight also return to the Jets, making the running back position very much a competition.

The offensive line looks in-shape, as the Jets added three players through the draft, G Brian Winters, G/T Oday Aboushi, and G Will Campbell. 2012 starters C Nick Mangold, RT Austin Howard, and LT D'Brickashaw Furgeson all return to the team. Vlad Ducasse will also try his luck at winning an open guard position.

Sanchez has pieces around him, yes they may not be spectacular, but a good QB in this league, even a decent one, can get those around him to play at their best level. And this team has enough talent, in my opinion, to be successful, if playing up to ability. 

The System

Finally, Mark Sanchez gets to play this year, if he makes that a reality, under OC Marty Morhinweg and his West Coast Offense. It's what everyone else has said he'd thrive in, but being fair to Mark, others opinions don't really matter much. 

Mornhinweg's WCO relies on short passes, and, thus, high completion percentages.

When the system was first implemented and played correctly in 1971, Bengals QB Virgil Carter led the league in pass completion percentage. 

That's something that Sanchez has severely lacked. Accuracy has not been his forté, but the poor decision-making has been the root of that problem. 

If Sanchez is finally able to stop getting in his own way with mistakes (and shaking off said mistakes), becoming a leader that this team so desperately needs, and is able to improve on his third season with the Jets, then I am just fine with him behind center in 2013. 

This could be his re-arrival, if that would be allowed by the Jets fanbase.

Geno Smith would have time to absorb the NFL's intricacies, behind an improved Sanchez, and the Jets would be better off, in my opinion, as the rebuild gets into full-swing.

But do I think this is a reality? Sadly, no.

In-Text Image Credit: AP

Brian Johnson

About Brian Johnson

Brian founded One Jet at a Time in late 2012 as a creative hobby which soon became a more serious outlet to discuss his favorite NFL team. At a very young age, he liked both the Drew Bledsoe-led Patriots and the Vinny Testaverde-manned Jets. That's what will happen when you don't understand divisions and rivals, and also want to cheer against your family. That's obviously changed...well the first part, anyway.

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