Rookie Sanchez named Jets starter
Sanchez was selected as the team's starting quarterback by coach Rex Ryan on Wednesday, making him the first rookie to open a season under center for the Jets. The fifth overall draft pick out of Southern California will make his regular-season debut at Houston on Sept. 13.
"I feel the best move for our franchise is to go with Mark Sanchez as our quarterback," Ryan said, adding that it was solely his decision.
Ryan, who made the announcement after practice, said early in training camp he'd like to make a decision on a starter by the Jets' third preseason game. Sanchez showed him enough in two games to beat Kellen Clemens for the job.
"I think Mark gives us the best opportunity to win," Ryan said, "and I think that's what I owe this franchise."
The fifth overall draft pick out of Southern California replaces Brett Favre as the starter after generally showing poise and solid decision-making skills during training camp. Ryan met with Sanchez and Clemens earlier Wednesday and made them aware of his decision.
"I feel very comfortable and confident in my decision," Ryan said.
The last time a rookie started a season for the franchise was in 1960, when Dick Jamieson quarterbacked the then-Titans. Joe Namath didn't start until the third game of his rookie season in 1965. Matt Robinson was the last rookie quarterback to start for the Jets in 1977.
Sanchez won't have an easy welcome to the NFL, though, facing a tough Texans defense in the opener, followed by home games against New England and Tennessee.
Sanchez struggled early in his start at Baltimore in a preseason game Monday night, but threw a touchdown pass to Leon Washington to cap his final series. Sanchez was 3-for-8 for 43 yards and had an interception -- his first pass of the game -- returned for a touchdown. Clemens was 5-for-10 for 60 yards and a score, but also had an interception returned for a TD.
Clemens, entering his fourth season with the Jets after being a second-round pick in 2006, also had a solid but unspectacular camp, but threw 12 interceptions compared to the rookie's five during practices.
It was the third quarterback competition for Clemens, once considered the team's future QB, but he lost out to Chad Pennington in 2006, Favre last summer and now Sanchez.
The Jets signed Sanchez to a five-year deal that could be worth up to $60 million, including $28 million guaranteed, just a few weeks after the draft. Sanchez was already being touted as the new face of the franchise and it appeared it was his job to lose after that.
Clemens didn't help his cause by being just as good as the rookie, but not clearly better than him. It was expected if the competition was close, the organization would move forward with Sanchez.
"At the end of the day, I'm going to rely on my instincts, just a gut feeling that I had," Ryan said.
Sanchez had a sizzling NFL preseason debut Aug. 14, when he came in with 28 seconds left in the first quarter, completed a 48-yard pass to David Clowney on his first snap, and engineered an early scoring drive in New York's 23-20 loss to St. Louis.
He struggled against the Ravens in the team's 24-23 defeat at Baltimore, but Ryan said he expected both quarterbacks to have their problems against the defense he helped build during the previous 10 years as an assistant and then coordinator.
Sanchez forced a pass on the second play as he was hit by Ray Lewis, and Haloti Ngata rumbled 25 yards for a score. His second pass was almost picked off by Lewis, who dropped the ball, but Sanchez settled down after that.
The Jets traded up in the draft to acquire the fifth overall pick from Cleveland and former coach Eric Mangini.