Commentary

Lockout affects Sanchez's preparation

With labor issues preventing contact with coaches, the Jets' QB is on his own for now

Updated: May 5, 2011, 10:58 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

MISSION VIEJO, Calif. -- When Mark Sanchez sits down to study football, he hears voices -- two men speaking to him from 2,800 miles away.

No, the New York Jets' quarterback isn't losing it. He welcomes the voices; they're helping him through the NFL lockout.

The labor dispute affects players in different ways. For Sanchez, it's robbing him the opportunity to spend invaluable time with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh.

A year ago, Sanchez logged coach's hours as he recovered from offseason knee surgery, breaking down video and learning from Schottenheimer and Cavanaugh in the classroom -- an intensive, three-month course they firmly believe contributed to Sanchez's improvement in 2010.

Now he's on his own.

Sanchez acknowledged that the time away from his coaches "can't help my development as a quarterback," but he believes he soaked up enough last year to make it on his own. To be sure, he brought plenty of homework with him to his offseason residence in California.

Anticipating the lockout, he downloaded video from last season on his personal laptop.

Enter, the voices.

"I'm going through the [video cut-ups] myself, just like I'm in the room with Schotty, thinking, 'What would he say?'" the third-year quarterback said during a break at the "Jets West" passing camp he organized for teammates. "I'm thinking, 'What would Coach Cav be telling me?' Probably something like, 'Open up your left foot when you're throwing to the left, you're too closed.'"

Sanchez is a hard worker, determined to improve, but it's fair to wonder if the lockout will have a negative impact from a mental standpoint. Players aren't allowed to communicate with coaches. It's a dramatic change for Sanchez, who typically texts Schottenheimer several times a night during the season to ask questions about the weekly game plan.

In a way, Sanchez's "Jets Camp" is helping to fill the void. It puts him in a coaching role. Each morning, he runs an hour-long meeting in the football office of his old high school, teaching plays and concepts to a dozen or so teammates.

"When I say them," he said, "it engrains it in my head one more time."

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
AP Photo/Reed SaxonWill the lack of one-on-one coaching this offseason hurt Mark Sanchez?

Sanchez scripts the meetings and the practices, which provides a greater understanding of the entire offense -- and an appreciation for Schottenheimer's job. Never again will he take for granted the amount of detail that needs to be covered.

Sanchez also has surrounded himself with a support staff. His former high school coach, Bob Johnson, is helping out at the camp. He's a renowned quarterback guru and he keeps a watchful eye on his pupil.

Johnson's son, Rob, a former NFL quarterback, also is observing the workouts -- another set of eyes. The graying Mark Brunell, 40, who became a mentor to Sanchez last season, is participating, and that provides a comfort level.

"They're all friendly with me, but not too friendly to where they can't coach me," Sanchez said. "They see a lot of things that Schotty does. They know what I'm supposed to be doing."

Sanchez made huge strides in his second season, flipping his touchdown-interception ratio from 12-20 to 17-13. He stamped himself a winner, leading the Jets to the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year, but he's far from a finished product.

He ranked near the bottom of the league in most of the major statistical categories, including completion percentage -- only 54.8. Maybe that's who he is, maybe he'll never be a great-numbers quarterback, but there's no denying his intangibles. He already has won four playoff games, all on the road.

"I think this is going to be a huge year for him, leadership-wise, breaking that barrier," wide receiver Braylon Edwards said. "We could win an extra three games because of his leadership and capability."

Physically, Sanchez is in a much better place than he was a year ago. Because of knee surgery, he missed most of the offseason. He couldn't do anything on the field until mid-June, so he locked himself in the film room. This year, it's the opposite.

Sanchez works four days a week with his personal trainer, Todd Norman, who has cooked up quarterback-specific drills to improve his pupil's footwork. On some days, they head to the beach, running drop-back and scramble drills in the sand.

Passersby will stop and watch, instantly recognizing the popular quarterback. Sanchez doesn't mind if he attracts a crowd; you're talking about someone who performed a workout last July 4 at the always packed Newport Beach.

"He always wants to work and he always wants to improve," Norman said. "This [lockout] has given him more time to get himself ready for the season."

Sanchez will do just about anything to improve -- always has. While attending USC, he used to host similar passing camps for his receivers, inviting them to make the 90-minute trek to his hometown. Much like "Jets West," he provided food and entertainment, often taking his teammates to a nearby water park. He did their laundry, too.

He laughed as he recalled those innocent days.

"Back then, it was tough because I really couldn't buy anything," he said. "We had to save our money just so we could go to the water park together."

At "Jets West," Sanchez's teammates are staying in villas at an oceanfront resort. Times have changed, but some things remain the same: He's still a quarterback, trying to get himself -- and his team -- ready for a season.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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