Jets hoping Sanchez-Tebow is a winning combination

All eyes have been on the New York Jets.

Tim Tebow, Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan have been in the headlines

for months. After all, the NFL’s most talked-about bunch is

fascinating, entertaining and controversial. Now, the Jets will

find out if that translates into a winning combination.

”It’s a big year for all of us,” Sanchez said. ”We’re all

ready just to start playing again. I think the guys are excited. I

said it earlier in spring that there’s just a good vibe around

here. So, regardless of any outside pressure, we’re putting a lot

of pressure on each other, on ourselves, so it’s good.”

Sanchez has certainly felt it for a while now. From his feud

with Santonio Holmes last season that highlighted a locker room of

dissension to the Jets’ flirting with the idea of going after

Peyton Manning and then deciding to trade for Tebow. And that was

after Sanchez received a contract extension.

While Manning has been a major preseason story line in Denver,

there has been perhaps no other quarterback situation followed as

closely as the Jets’ dynamic – and potentially combustible – duo of

Sanchez and Tebow. The Jets have insisted for months – since they

acquired Tebow from the Broncos in March – that Sanchez is the

undisputed starter at quarterback with Tebow a do-it-all backup

who’ll have a major role in Tony Sparano’s offense.

”As much as people are trying to make it a quarterback

controversy, it’s not,” Ryan said. ”Mark is our starting

quarterback, and Tim is an excellent football player.”

But some are skeptical that the two can coexist, with many fans

and media speculating that Tebow will eventually supplant Sanchez

as the starter. Some have even predicted it will happen by Week 6,

after a few tough matchups with solid defenses such as Buffalo,

Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Houston.

For now, Tebow will work in some wildcat-style packages that the

Jets have yet to unveil in a game, and serve as the personal punt

protector on special teams. Pretty unusual for a quarterback who

was a Heisman Trophy winner in college and took the league by storm

last year with several dramatic comeback victories.

”I don’t know that I necessarily think like a lot of other

quarterbacks do,” Tebow said. ”I just think whatever I can do to

help this team I’m going to do – have a great attitude, be a great

teammate.”

Tebow has said all the right things since coming to New York,

and so has Sanchez. And the Jets think having Tebow will be worth

all the attention, especially when he gets rolling in the

wildcat.

”You have Rex, who from the day he walked through the door has

said defending 11-man football is hard – when the quarterback can

run the ball, that’s hard,” general manager Mike Tannenbaum said.

”You have Tony, who coached him at the Senior Bowl and obviously

had success with the wildcat in Miami. So, from a football

standpoint, the interesting part of that trade is that it made

sense from both sides of the ball. You have a defensive play caller

who can’t defend it and an offensive play caller who has had

success with it.”

But the focus in Week 1 will be whether the Jets’ offense –

Sanchez, Tebow or whoever – can get into the end zone. The

starters, along with Tebow, went three preseason games without

scoring a touchdown to become the first team since the 1977 Atlanta

Falcons to do so.

The Jets aren’t concerned by the offensive ineptitude, saying

it’s still only preseason and that the playbook hasn’t been fully

opened. Well, we’ll see how different things look when they kick it

off for real against Buffalo on Sept. 9.

”We just feel like there’s good stuff right around the

corner,” Sanchez said.

That’s reassuring, especially to the defense, which figures to

be the strength of this year’s team which is looking for a return

to the postseason after going 8-8 last year. Ryan believes this

unit has a chance to be special, and it starts with the defensive

line which is deeper than it has been in any of Ryan’s previous

three seasons with first-round pick Quinton Coples joining Muhammad

Wilkerson, the Jets’ top choice last year, and veterans Sione Pouha

and Mike DeVito.

”Numbers-wise, we think we’ll be in the top 5 because that’s

what you go on,” Ryan said. ”Will we have the best defense in the

league? I don’t know. There are a lot of good defenses out there. I

certainly think putting out that kind of defense is a goal of ours

every year. We’ll see. I feel good.”

Ryan’s improved secondary is another reason. All-Pro Darrelle

Revis and Antonio Cromartie form perhaps the league’s top

cornerback tandem, and the safety position was revamped by bringing

in veterans LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell. The two are

hard-hitting presences who might help the Jets defend better

against an increasing number of teams relying on tight ends –

including AFC East-rival New England.

”I was talking with Revis, and I was like, `You know, right now

it seems like we’re dialed in on the communication part of the

game, and that’s huge,”’ Ryan said. ”That’s when you can play

fast. Even your young defensive linemen are getting into it. We’re

seeing very few mental mistakes over there. That allows you to play

faster.”

But the Jets know this season will likely come down to how

Sanchez performs, and whether he and Tebow can cause headaches for

opposing defenses – instead of double trouble in New York.

”I think more than anything, your No. 1 goal has to be how can

we win games and how can we make this team better?” Tebow said.

”And I think if that’s your No. 1 goal, I think it can definitely

work out.”

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