Sanchez Marking time

Posted: July 31, 2014

WHEN HE would drop back and survey the field, thoughts of his surgically repaired shoulder occasionally lingered in the back of his mind. This was during the Eagles' organized team activities in May and June, and although Mark Sanchez felt good, it took physical reps on the fields at the NovaCare Complex before he felt all the way back.

With the Eagles through 3 days of training camp, the front-runner to become Nick Foles' primary backup said he feels no apprehension or hesitation on the field regarding his 2013 injury. For Sanchez, the feeling-out process is over.

"It's grip it and rip it," he said.

The much-maligned former Jets quarterback has for the most part looked sharp early in his first Philadelphia training camp. Sanchez, who has taken all the second-team reps ahead of Matt Barkley, said the ball feels like it's "jumping out of my hand."

Monday's practice at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles' first with pads of the preseason, featured a lot of handoffs and quarterback check-downs in 11-on-11 drills. When Sanchez finally aired one out, he unloaded a play-action pass on target about 40 yards down the right sideline to Arrelious Benn, but safety Earl Wolff made the defensive play of the afternoon on the pass breakup. Toward the end of practice, Sanchez connected with rookie Jordan Matthews on three straight passes and capped his afternoon by hitting the undrafted Quron Pratt on a curl pattern.

"I think he's been sharp the last few days and really came on toward the end of the spring and [I've] been really impressed with him as a teammate," coach Chip Kelly said before Monday's session. The Eagles were off yesterday and resume practice today at the NovaCare Complex. "The guys in the locker room will tell you that; what a great person Mark is and how well he's fit in with that group.

"We are really excited to have him because as I said before, you need to have a couple quarterbacks in this league, because very rarely does your No. 1 make it through the entire season."

Sanchez, 27, said he's comfortable in Kelly's high-octane system. In five seasons with the Jets, he played for three different coordinators in Brian Schottenheimer, Tony Sparano and Marty Mornhinweg. The terminology in Kelly's offense differs, but Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and well-traveled quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave have been able to help Sanchez translate play-calls by comparing or contrasting with calls from his past systems.

"It's coming like second nature now," Sanchez said. "I think the way our quarterback room works so well, especially with Nick and Matt and G.J. [Kinne] all being in the system, it's easy for me to push myself because I know they were ahead when I got here. They had heard all this stuff before. So I had to really catch up quick. Now I feel like we're all speaking the same language and we're all helping each other out."

Sanchez's torn labrum cost him all of last season with New York. The USC product and former fifth overall draft pick said sitting out made for "an empty feeling, career-wise." He had started 68 games, including playoffs, over his first four pro seasons, quarterbacking the Jets to consecutive conference championship games in 2009 and 2010 but ending his tenure on the heels of a couple of struggle-filled, turnover-abundant and drama-packed seasons. His 52 turnovers committed over the 2011 and 2012 seasons were an NFL worst.

"[Missing last season] did give me a different perspective," he said. "It made me appreciate playing even more and it showed me how fragile things are and how quickly things can change. Not only for the worse but for the better. Things can change like that. You can be in the game. You can be playing again. It's been a long road to recovery but it feels good. I feel great."

With no team offering a starting gig after his release from the Jets, Sanchez sensed the Eagles provided him the best opportunity. Worst-case scenario, he noted, when free agency commences next summer teams will have preseason film of him playing healthy with a bevy of weapons around him. Or, he said, "If Nick's kicking butt all year like he did last year like we anticipate, then maybe we get up on a couple teams and I get in late in the game and then there's even more film."

As Kelly reiterated Monday, you need more than one quarterback in this league, in which starters rarely make it through 16 games unscathed. Seventy quarterbacks took a regular-season snap in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus, though kneeldowns likely make that figure a tad inflated. The Eagles were one of eight teams to insert three quarterbacks. The Packers played four.

Kelly's relationship with Sanchez dates a decade. When Kelly was the offensive coordinator at New Hampshire he recruited the West Coast, including Sanchez's school in south Orange County. The coach actually recruited Sanchez's successor at Mission Viejo High, a kid named R.J. Toman who went on to start three seasons at UNH.

Sanchez recalls meeting Kelly briefly at a 7-on-7 passing tournament and remembered Kelly's name through the coach's meteoric rise at Oregon, where his Ducks competed against Sanchez-led USC teams. After witnessing Kelly's innovative offense firsthand at the collegiate level, Sanchez now finds himself running it in practice as the NFL's most well-known backup QB.

"I think it's just the next chapter, really, on a 1-year deal like this," he said. "I've been privileged to play quite a bit in this league and have a lot of games under my belt, so I'm going to help Nick as much as I can, and if there's any opportunity to play and the team needs me, I've got to do my best for the team and do what's right."

On Twitter: @jakemkaplan


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