FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Mark Sanchez is adapting to his third offense in as many seasons. That cannot be easy.
A veteran coach and hands-on, highly respected offensive coordinator, Mornhinweg presumably is tasked with reviving Sanchez and, in turn, the Jets. Mornhinweg wants dedication, execution, commitment. He doesn't expect Steve Young.
As Sanchez, at age 26, enters a summer that likely will define his Jets fate, he appears to have found a bond with Mornhinweg, one that already surpasses the relationship any Jets quarterback ever forged with Tony Sparano in 2012.
"It's just a good vibe going on right now," is how Sanchez characterizes it.
A few minutes earlier on Wednesday, he said: "I really feel like this coaching staff will get the best out of me."
It was Mornhinweg who heard TV draft analysts offer stinging critiques of Sanchez, then inquired whether Sanchez was OK. Sanchez laughed it off.
And it was Mornhinweg who dominated an on-field conversation with Sanchez after Wednesday's organized team activity, delivering constructive criticism tinged with encouragement.
And, man, did Sanchez need it. All of it.
Because there is one thing Mark Sanchez cannot continue to do, and he knows it. He cannot continue to give the ball away.
The drill goes something like this: He makes a poor decision or a bad read, maybe finds some bad luck, and the end result rarely garners a "Whew, that was close" moment of relief.
No, Sanchez's miscues are doozies. There's the butt-fumble. There's no mercy. He is a turnover machine.
Over the past two seasons, Sanchez has committed at least one turnover in 25 of the 31 games he's played. His league-leading 52 turnovers since 2011 have been split evenly, 26 per season.
In the most recent Jets game that mattered, on a Monday night in December at Tennessee, he finished a five-turnover game with a stunning trifecta: a turnover on each of the Jets' final three possessions.
"Obviously, it's a devastating loss, out of the playoffs, and it hurts beyond belief," coach Rex Ryan said that night. "I think the thing that really hurts the most is we've got no one to blame but ourselves."
Plenty in the organization and the locker room blamed Sanchez. They had seen enough. More than one eyewitness characterized owner Woody Johnson as incensed after that game, not only at Sanchez's performance but at the guaranteed money remaining on his contract ($8.25 million this year).
Enter Mornhinweg. And new general manager John Idzik. And bring on serious competition in the form of Smith and David Garrard (before a knee injury forced the latter's apparent retirement). A four-year incumbent, Sanchez suddenly is guaranteed nothing in terms of playing time.
He'll have to earn it.
Which brings us back to Wednesday, the Jets' first OTA of the spring that was open to media. And Sanchez throws three interceptions. Three. One appeared to be the fault of an inexperienced receiver. (Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill sat out, recovering from injuries. Make no mistake, Sanchez isn't throwing to Larry Fitzgerald.) Another was thrown into double coverage, a poor decision. And on the third, the nose tackle who was spying the running back made the pick. The nose tackle.
"That's one (where) you just have to throw it away," Ryan said.
(An only-the-Jets aside: The nose tackle is a second-year player named Damon Harrison, nicknamed "Snacks" by Ryan last year. Sanchez lamented the pick, saying, "Of all people, freaking Snacks. That's your worst nightmare.")
And if you're thinking that this is "just OTAs," that it's only May, and that none of this matters, then know this: It matters to Ryan. He called the interceptions "unacceptable."
"You can do 90 percent really good things, but if you do 10 percent poor things, you're going to get beat in this league," Ryan said. "And those are the things we have to get better at -- protecting the football over anything else. That's what we have to get better at. We know it. Today was a disappointment as far as that's concerned."
For his part, Smith threw an interception Wednesday and his footwork remains a work in progress. The rookie is also learning the offense and the playbook, and he is adjusting from an offense at West Virginia where he was given free rein to freelance and operated almost exclusively out of the shotgun.
But Smith, the first quarterback drafted by Idzik, will be given every opportunity to win the job. And Sanchez has to know it.
Back in 2009, Sanchez was the hot-shot rookie -- the fifth overall pick in the draft -- who beat out Kellen Clemens for the job. Really, it was no contest; the decision-makers in the organization wanted Sanchez to start.
There's a chance that Smith, too, is the predetermined winner of a competition that should last until August. But we are assuming, for now, that Sanchez vs. Smith is a true competition. As it should be.
Sanchez said Mornhinweg's post-practice message Wednesday went something like this: "Just keep working, plugging through it. This is the time you have to shake off the rust, adjust and develop chemistry with some of the new guys. Those things happen. But how are you going to bounce back tomorrow? How are you going to play the next play and keep moving the team down the field?"
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