|Mark Sanchez says he has bigger things to worry about than Tim Tebow, who is 'here to help us.' (AP)|
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Just before stepping in front of a cluster of reporters, New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez hesitates and starts to pull off his T-shirt. Then he stops, laughing as he lets the top fall back into place.
"Just trying to have some fun," he said.
Well, it's time somebody does. Fun is not exactly what Jets camp is about these days, with Sanchez and Tim Tebow, America's favorite backup, dissected as beat reporters chart their daily passing percentages, weighing one's successes against the other's failures. Like everyone else, the media wants to know who's ahead in the competition ... only there's a catch: There is no competition.
Mark Sanchez is the Jets' starter. Tim Tebow is the backup, hired to run the Wildcat, pump life into the league's 22nd-ranked running game and fill in wherever he can help.
Nevertheless, speculation abounds about what happens if Sanchez falters, the Jets stumble out of the gate or Tebow outplays Sanchez in preseason games, and I'll tell you what.
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Sanchez starts, Tebow watches and the debate doesn't end.
"It's not on my mind," a remarkably unconcerned Sanchez said. "I don't even think about it. You can't have rabbit ears. You can't worry about everything. You can't worry about people chanting 'Tebow.' I'm worried about my read. I'm focused on the defense. I'm listening to coach [Tony] Sparano on my headset. It's so far from my mind that it's something you can joke about later on ... and that's how I try to keep it."
Well, good for him. The Jets have tried to do what they can to demonstrate that Sanchez is their starter -- including extending his contract by three years -- but as long as Tebow is in the neighborhood, skeptics want to know when he will play.
Pardon Sanchez, but he'll sit that conversation out. He takes the first-team snaps. He makes the passes Tebow does not ... or cannot. And he listens to coaches and management reassure him that they're not looking to make a change at the position.
"And do you believe them?" I asked him.
"Absolutely," he said. "I have faith in those guys. I know Mr. [Mike] Tannenbaum [Jets GM], Rex [Ryan] and [owner Woody] Johnson are trying to put me in a situation to be successful and that Tim's here to help -- and I don't forget that. He's not here to take anybody's job. That's not the point. He's here to help us and add to what we have. I just keep that mentality and attitude, and I embrace it."
Sanchez's attitude is to interject levity to a subject that has been sliced, diced and spliced ad nauseum -- six weeks from the start of the season, no less. So he pokes fun at Tebow by pretending to remove his shirt, hoping to loosen up an audience that needs to relax as much as Sanchez does.
"I am having fun with it, and why not?" Sanchez said. "Because Tim has fun with it, too. He's not one of those guys who gets too sensitive. If he was, it wouldn't be that fun, and nobody could really joke around. But he's learning quickly just like everybody around here that everyone is free game. You pose for GQ, you're free game."
But everyone is free game at Cortland. Sanchez. Tebow. Coach Rex Ryan. Santonio Holmes. Antonio Cromartie. It's exhausting, and it's never-ending, but Sanchez says he's OK with it ... probably because there's nothing he can do about it. The reporters aren't going away. Neither are the cameras or the pitch counts or ESPN, which was still embedded in Cortland this week.
So Sanchez does what he can, which is grin and bear it, and good luck.
"I think what helped me going into this camp," he said, "as far as being level-headed and having the right mentality and a positive attitude was that I got to see those Hard Knocks practices two to three days before camp -- where I was not able to sleep, was excited for camp and trying to find exactly what I wanted to accomplish here those last couple of days.
"It was the quiet before the storm. So I'm watching these Hard Knocks practices from two years ago, and how much fun we were having, laughing and joking and seeing all the stuff I was going to see again ... and I was like, man, this is going to be awesome; this is going to be a lot of fun.
"I told myself: Take it seriously, but get over yourself and have a good time. Mix it up with your teammates. Learn everybody's name. Find out something fun about them. Joke with guys. I can't wait for the rookie show, and I can't wait for somebody to make fun of some of these new coaches we have. Really cherish this time and attack it.
"Your routine should be set in stone. So just go and attack, and that's really been my plan. Not to hold back just because we were 8-8. Forget about it. Move on with it. Take what we need to learn, and let's go."