Sanchez practices, but Ryan not ready to pick Jets' starting QB

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez was back on the field taking snaps for the New York Jets, ready to reclaim his starting job.

Now it's all up to his sprained right knee.

"I felt good today," Sanchez said Wednesday. "We'll see how it goes, play it day to day and talk to the doctors again (Thursday). But I feel confident."

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Sanchez practiced for the first time since he sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in the knee during a Dec. 3 victory over the Buffalo Bills. Jets coach Rex Ryan wants to be sure there's no stiffness or swelling in Sanchez's knee before deciding whether the rookie or Kellen Clemens will start against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

"He hasn't worked like this football-wise for a while, so we'll see how he responds," Ryan said.

Sanchez practiced with a brace and split the snaps with the first-team offense with Clemens. Sanchez also is wearing a brace on his left knee from an earlier injury, but he wasn't sure if he'd wear both if he plays Sunday at the Meadowlands.

"I looked like Forrest Gump out there, man," Sanchez said, smiling, adding that the braces are lightweight and custom-made to fit his knee. "They were giving me a hard time out there, but it's all right. If I've got to wear roller blades, I'll wear roller blades. Last week, I was just dying not being there. If it means I've got to wear two braces, I'll wear two braces. Whatever. "

Sanchez appeared unimpeded by the injury that sidelined him for the Jets' 26-3 road victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday.

"I'm not a burner or speed guy anyway, so I'm not getting away from too many people in this league," Sanchez said. "The most important thing is just getting back out on the field and working; the range of motion will come second."

The former USC quarterback also wore short sleeves despite near-freezing temperatures, preparing for cold-weather games.

"It was good," Sanchez said with a big smile. "I needed it, thicken my blood."

Ryan said if the knee is fine and medically cleared, he conceivably could give Sanchez all the first-team snaps at practice Thursday.

"If we felt 100 percent that was the direction we would go, then absolutely that would be the course of action," Ryan said. "I'm not even saying that we'll know for sure a definite answer tomorrow. We'll just have to see. Again, this is a big decision."

Sanchez spent last week rehabilitating at the Jets' facility. He said he believed he could play against the Bucs and was upset by Ryan's decision. Sanchez didn't travel with the team to Tampa.

"It was killing me," Sanchez said. "I want to be on the field. It was hard to see the guys leave on the plane and go on the trip and know Saturday night they're in the hotel in meetings. But I watched the game with my call sheet and followed along and felt good about it."

Ryan wasn't concerned that Sanchez might hide any discomfort so he could play.

"There's no heroes," Ryan said. "He knows how important this game is to us. He knows that his safety is important to us. I think he'll definitely be honest with us. He always has been."

Sanchez concurred, adding that he and Ryan have a strong relationship.

"He knows I'll be honest with him, that if something hurts, I'll tell him," Sanchez said. "And if I'm not ready or I'm going to do the team a disservice or myself a disservice, we need to make a change or something. ... He trusts me, and I trust him, and I know he was just trying to protect me."

Clemens started in Sanchez's place, completing 12 of 23 passes for 111 yards and no turnovers. Clemens would start again if Sanchez isn't medically cleared in time to play.

"We have confidence in Kellen," Ryan said. "I thought he managed the game exactly how we needed it."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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