New York Jets  

 

Faced with huge expectations, Sanchez at critical point in career


Whenever you hear a coach say he has to "manage" his quarterback, a red flag immediately goes up and everyone thinks the player is just not good enough.

The term "managed quarterback" usually means more runs, fewer passes, a simpler offense and the burden of winning falling onto another phase of the game. A "managed quarterback" cannot carry the team. The team has to carry the "managed quarterback."

With the exception of a few quarterbacks in the league, most everyone else is managed to one degree or another. How the offense develops around the skill set of the player is vital to the success of that player.

Could Joe Montana have been great in another style offense? Of course, but his skill set was best highlighted in Bill Walsh's West Coast system. Could Peyton Manning? Yes, but Manning has only been in three offenses since high school, therefore the offense fits him like a glove. For a player to reach a point to maximize his talents, the system must fit the skill set of the player -- in essence "be managed."

Below are the statistics from two first-round quarterbacks from their rookie years. Can you guess who they are? Here are a couple of clues: The first one was the second overall pick in an early 1990s draft. The other was a recent first-rounder taken fifth overall. Both quarterbacks came from big schools, had huge public relation machines advertising their talents, and had a can't-miss star label attached to their names.

 
G
GS
Comp
Att
Yds
TD
Int
Rate
Player A
16
16
274
486
2,833
12
17
67.0
Player B
15
15
196
364
2,444
12
20
63.0


Give up?

The first quarterback played for the Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears and was a clipboard-holder for several other teams: Rick Mirer. The second quarterback is the Jets' Mark Sanchez. Both players were able to start for their team as rookies and both players had high hopes for the future after that rookie season. We know Mirer never played as well as he did as a rookie, and never advanced his skill or production level. His rookie season ended up being his career year. What will happen with Sanchez this year? Will he become like Mirer, or will he be able to take the next big step toward becoming a complete quarterback?

There were high hopes for Mirer after his first year in Seattle. He was the face of the franchise after being selected in the 1993 NFL Draft. Starting all 16 games his rookie season enhanced his career expectations. Of course, being from Notre Dame also created a certain cache to his name and talents. However, Mirer was inaccurate in his rookie year and never improved (his percent of passes completed -- 56.4 -- was actually a career high). Mirer was also not quick-minded with the ball, took too many sacks, threw too many interceptions and did not demonstrate the leadership to take over the team. Seattle's coaching staff thought Mirer was just a rookie, and he would out-grow his problems and take the next step.

The next step was backward, though, and after four years in Seattle, he was traded to Chicago (along with a fourth-round choice) for a first-round pick. The Bears believed they could change Mirer, and if surrounded by the right players in the right scheme, he could rekindle the magic from his rookie season. Yet, there was no rookie year magic, there was just another quarterback who had a big name from a big school, who could not make the accurate throws under pressure.

Sanchez, by all accounts, had a positive rookie year. He was able to start, had his usual rookie ups and downs, but his play in the playoffs gave the Jets' management and fans hope that the future is bright. You could almost hear Jets management thinking: Get Sanchez more weapons and he will take off.

Bill Haber / Associated Press
Rick Mirer showed promise as a rookie, but failed to improve in following seasons.

What the Jets must learn from Mirer is that they cannot expand the offense in Sanchez's second year. They must err on the side of caution in terms of offensive design. Sanchez is too inaccurate to create a wide-open offense. Limiting his inside throws by running the ball more often is what will make Sanchez most effective. Sanchez must be managed and it is Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's job to make sure the offense is Sanchez-friendly, not expansive.

The second year is the make-or-break year for young quarterbacks. With 16 games worth of tape to study, every defensive coordinator will have a good read on their weaknesses and exploit those areas. Teams have a read on Sanchez now. They will play him in a certain style and manner, thus forcing him to play outside his comfort zone. Once Sanchez proves he can play that way, his career will take off, but if he fails to handle the challenge, things will get dicey.

Schottenheimer is a bright coach with a creative offensive mind, and he will become a head coach in the league some time soon, but getting that head job will not be a result of his ability to create a fast-break offense, but rather his ability to manage and maximize Sanchez's talents. Most teams looking for a new head coach would love to find someone who has proven he can develop a quarterback and create the right offense around him. Sanchez is not the complete answer. He is not the next Peyton Mannng, or even Aaron Rodgers, and his lack of accuracy will never allow him to be in that class, but he has proven he can win when he does not have to carry the burden of carrying the team.

After a lackluster preseason, the Jets must get back to their playoff playbook and limit what Sanchez does in their passing game. For the Jets to win more than 10 games they must play great pressure defense, control field position with their kicking game and run the ball well. That is who they are as a team, not an explosive offensive machine. The Jets must understand Sanchez is a good player, but can be great if managed correctly. Sanchez is at a critical point in his career in terms of the expectations placed upon him. He must rise to the challenge, but he also must not play outside of his skill level. The Jets are a better team when Sanchez is controlling the tempo, and when the burden of winning falls onto their defense and kicking game. Sanchez must be managed and being managed is not a bad thing.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.

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