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Jets' QB competition heats up after rookie Sanchez signs big contract

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Mark Sanchez drove the New York Jets' offense down the field Thursday and capped a successful minicamp with a well-placed statement, hitting Wallace Wright in stride in the left corner of the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown pass.

One day after signing a record-breaking contract, Sanchez wasn't satisfied with just having a fat paycheck. The rookie showed he wants to be the Jets' starting quarterback.

Tale of the tape


» Name: Mark Sanchez         Name: Kellen Clemens

» Height: 6-2 | Weight: 227  Height: 6-2 | Weight: 223

» Experience: Rookie           Experience: 3 seasons

» College: USC                    College: Oregon

"Wow," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "What a day."


On Wednesday night, Sanchez signed a five-year deal that could be worth up to $60 million, including a team-record $28 million guaranteed. On Thursday, with all eyes on the new high-paid face of the franchise, Sanchez delivered.

"It was the most comfortable that I've felt ending on a drive like that," Sanchez said. "I really just let myself go."

He sure did, completing his last five passes of the day in 11-on-11 drills. He hit Wright short, then connected with David Clowney on three consecutive throws to set up the touchdown toss that caused the hundreds of fans watching to wildly cheer.

"The other guys notice that, too," Sanchez said. "They notice when you throw an interception, and they notice when you run down on a 2-minute drill and score. That's the way it's got to be from here on out. It's got to be that way. I know what it feels like to get in that situation, and I'll be ready for that come camp time.

"It was a good way to end."

But his competition with Kellen Clemens for the Jets' starting job has just begun, and Ryan, the first-year head coach, said the two are "really battling."

Clemens, a former second-round pick who once was considered the franchise's future quarterback, also has been solid this offseason while mostly working with the first-team offense. He also completed his last few throws on his final series of 11-on-11s, but his drive lacked the drama of Sanchez's.

"I feel really good about where I am right now with my comfort with the offense," Clemens said. "It will be more work for me through the offseason. Then, taking a little bit of a break to recharge the batteries. I'm very excited about where we are, going into training camp."

The Jets are done with full-team practices until July 31, when training camp opens in Cortland, N.Y. That's when the quarterback competition -- clearly the most intriguing and important battle this summer for the Jets -- will really heat up.

"I knew it was going to be a dogfight, and right now, you can tell it really is," Ryan said. "We probably won't know until whenever it becomes obvious, that's when we'll make the decision. Obviously, you'd prefer to have it sooner than later, but I don't think that's going to happen."

To his credit, Clemens hasn't sulked one bit this offseason -- not when the Jets flirted with Jay Cutler, whom the Denver Broncos instead dealt to the Chicago Bears, or when New York traded up in the draft to take Sanchez. Clemens again was gracious when asked if Sanchez's huge contract is a sign the rookie has the backing of the organization.

Clemens: It's still a competition

Kellen Clemens refuses to surrender the Jets' starting QB job without a fight, but he did acknowledge that rookie Mark Sanchez has the financial edge -- for now. **More ...**

"That's none of my business," Clemens said. "From what I've been told, and the only thing that matters in this competition, is that the best player will play. They never said that the highest-paid player is going to play, but the best player is going to play.

"If they change their approach, then I'll change my approach."

Ryan said early in the offseason that he had a feeling about how the competition would go but didn't realize how close it would be. He also said money won't factor in the final decision.

"I have to do what's best for our football team," Ryan said. "If that means we play a rookie, so be it. If we play Kellen Clemens, so be it. The guy is going to have to earn that job."

Meanwhile, Sanchez was the source of lots of good-natured ribbing Thursday.

"It's pretty good," he said, smiling. "A lot of guys do that, 'sniff, sniff,' smells like new money around here."

Even while Sanchez was talking to reporters outside the locker room, right tackle Damien Woody walked by and yelled out: "Hey, I need a loan!"

"No one has demanded too much," Sanchez said, laughing. "They've just been joking around saying, 'So, when are we going out?' or 'When are we going to dinner?' or 'Don't forget you're still a rook -- you have to buy all the stuff for gameday mornings.' So, I've been hearing all of the requests."

Notes: Ryan singled out Sanchez, Wright, safety Eric Smith and linebacker Marques Murrell as minicamp standouts. ... Smith made his fifth interception of minicamp Wednesday. "Ed Reed. That's what it reminded me of," Ryan said. Smith pulled up lame after tweaking his right hamstring on the interception, but he said he was fine.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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