A reenergized Mark Sanchez ready to make most of his time in Philly
PHILADELPHIA -- When the Eagles held their first OTA workout of the offseason that was open to the media on Thursday, a quick check of the quarterback lineup showed Philadelphia's newest passer, Mark Sanchez, wearing No. 3, while second-year Eagle Matt Barkley continued to sport a No. 2 jersey.
But in reality, it would seem that order already has been reversed on the depth chart, with a re-energized Sanchez, the former Jets' starter and erstwhile savior, taking most of the second-team snaps in the team drills. Barkley, who has what was thought to be the key edge in experience in Chip Kelly's style of fast-break football, was working mainly with the third team, just as he did during his rookie season of 2013, behind starter Nick Foles and backup Michael Vick.
No real surprise there, given Sanchez is entering his sixth NFL season and holds a vast advantage when it comes to game experience over both the third-year veteran Foles and Barkley. But after Sanchez's lost season of 2013, when a preseason shoulder injury cost him the entire year, no one really knew what to expect from the ex-New York franchise quarterback. On Thursday at least, Sanchez looked to be in a new place, in more ways than the obvious one.
Calling his new home with the Eagles "everything I could have dreamed of,'' Sanchez showed almost a rookie's enthusiasm for his new surroundings throughout a 90-minute practice, then met the media for the first time since his introductory news conference in late March -- on the same eventful day the Eagles released receiver DeSean Jackson.
Sanchez is intent on using his new beginning in Philadelphia -- in whatever role he earns -- to prove that he is far from finished as an NFL quarterback at 27. That's after the ignominious way his once-promising Jets' career wound down over the course of 2012's Tebow-themed sideshow act in New York, and last year's ill-timed injury and Geno Smith arrival.
"Maybe this whole shoulder thing and relocation has just been a blessing in disguise,'' Sanchez said. "I like to think like that. Maybe that year off was exactly what I needed. I got a little rest for my legs, for my arm. I feel great. Whatever happens, however things play out, I've just got to work hard, and I think I'm entering the prime of my career.''
A backup quarterback, of course, doesn't really matter until he's needed. And Kelly has made it clear that Sanchez was not signed to a one-year contract this spring to in any way challenge Foles, the phenom of 2013 who took over for an injured Vick at midseason and wound up throwing for 27 touchdowns and two interceptions, with a gaudy 119.0 rating -- eventually earning the Pro Bowl Offensive MVP honor.
But it is instructive to note that all three of Philadelphia's quarterbacks saw significant playing time last season -- even the rookie Barkley -- and from that perspective Sanchez might at some point this year be front and center for the defending NFC East champion Eagles. In 19 of the past 23 seasons, Philadelphia has started more than one quarterback.
"There were other options, but I just kept thinking, Eagles,'' Sanchez said. "This was the place to be. I really respect what they did last year, winning the division. It's a good spot, and I think they have a ton of talent. I was drawn here because of the offensive minds here. And what they did last year was just the tip of the iceberg for these guys.''
Sanchez at one point used the word "they'' in talking about the Eagles' future, but then caught himself and transitioned to "we,'' as in "we are on the rise.'' As best as he can, he is otherwise putting his roller-coaster ride, five-year Jets' tenure far, far behind him, refusing to even make comparisons between playing in the New York and Philadelphia markets. Sanchez went 33-29 as New York's starter, including four road playoff victories and a pair of AFC title game appearances in his first two seasons (2009, '10).
"I loved everything that happened there -- everything -- good, bad, ugly, don't care,'' he said. "It was an awesome time, but I'm an Eagle now. I love being here, and it's the best place I could have landed. That's the way I'm approaching it.''
Sanchez looked fairly comfortable in the Eagles' always up-tempo offense on Thursday, although he was not consistently crisp or on target with his throws. But him running the No. 2 offense spoke volumes about the confidence Kelly has in where Sanchez is physically after having surgery to repair a torn labrum last season. Before practice, Kelly said Sanchez was not limited in any way at this point, but after practice, Sanchez revealed the Eagles are at least keeping track of how many throws he makes each day.
"[The shoulder is] feeling great, [practicing] three days in a row,'' he said. "I have no second thoughts on the throws and it's coming along. [Doing everything], that's in the plan. At least in my mind. I know Dr. [James] Andrews [who did his surgery] is going to be a little worried, but that's OK. That's their job, to keep me going at the right pace, to keep me on a pitch count. They've just been tracking the number of throws and it's been perfect. No soreness. Feeling good every day.''
It did seem strange Thursday to be at an Eagles practice with no sign of Vick or Jackson in sight. In a trade that wasn't a trade, Sanchez and Vick, of course, basically were swapped for each other this offseason, with Vick signing with the Jets and heading north to either supplant or back up second-year veteran Geno Smith. Sanchez said he has not spoken with Vick about his Eagles experience, and apparently the two won't be renting each other's house in Philadelphia or New York/New Jersey.
"I think we passed on the train, high-fiving,'' joked Sanchez. "I respect the heck out of him. I think he's a hell of a player, and I wish him the best.''
Sanchez's competition with Barkley for the No. 2 job obviously isn't over in late May, but the two former USC quarterbacks know each other well and seem to mesh easily. Sanchez actually played host on Barkley's recruiting trip to USC, and although the two were never teammates with the Trojans, they have a comfort zone together.
"Matt's a great guy, and regardless of what anyone says, we all want to start,'' Sanchez said. "And there's nothing wrong with that. I'm honestly not putting too much into those things [practice rep designations]. Whether it's TV or in the paper or here's where you're rolling in practice, it doesn't matter. I'm absorbing this offense. I'm learning it the very best I can and I'm competing my ass off. That's what I've got to do.''
Having played in college against an Oregon team that featured Kelly as offensive coordinator, Sanchez jumped at the chance to learn under him in Philadelphia, knowing full well that if a former starting quarterback chooses his second NFL home poorly, he may never get a third job offer. But if he chooses wisely, a career can be relaunched.
"I was ready to get to a new place after I was released, and this looked like the best opportunity,'' he said. "I've seen how fast they can move the tempo and control the pace of the game. It's impressive and very fun to be a part of. It's constantly like a two-minute drill.
"They expect you to blink fast, and think fast, and move fast and react to things, anticipate. It feels like a fast break, like when Steve Nash was running with the Suns, just dishing the ball. That's really the way they view their quarterback. And Kelly's kind of the mastermind behind this whole thing. He knows exactly what this thing is supposed to look like, and he has a year under his belt. I think he's got a good plan moving forward.''
The moving forward part is what Sanchez is intently focused on this spring. He hasn't been an Eagle for long, but from all appearances, he has already made some early progress on Philadelphia's quarterback depth chart.