Florham Park, NJ– Mark Sanchez has faced the same criticism throughout his first three seasons; he’s not very accurate, has too many turnovers, struggles adjusting past his first read and he’s mentally weak. In my opinion, one of these things is not like the others.

Has Sanchez had trouble moving past his first read? Absolutely. Troubles with accuracy and too many turnovers? Definitely. Mentally weak? Nope, I can’t go there.

I’ve never bought into the idea that Sanchez is mentally frail, it never made sense to me. Maybe I just have a different definition of ‘mentally weak’ than everyone else does, because to me when you’ve been criticized and physically abused, because of poor offensive line play, the way Sanchez has and you still show up to work early and leave late everyday so you can put in the work to try and improve, that’s mental toughness.

Is he as mentally tough as Tom Brady or Peyton Manning? Of course not. You know who else wasn’t as mentally tough as Brady or Peyton? Brady and Peyton in their first few seasons. I think because people don’t see Sanchez getting in his teammates face and holding them accountable for everything they say he’s mentally weak, I call that being a young quarterback adjusting to being comfortable taking complete and total command and responsibility of the huddle. That ability to feel comfortable screaming in a teammates face and loudly explaining what they did wrong doesn’t come naturally to most people, it’s something that has to be developed over time and it’s something we’ve begun to signs of with Sanchez this offseason.

Mark Sanchez has faced a lot of criticism and much of it is deserved, but the idea that he is mentally weak does not fall into that category. (Jetsinsider.com Photo)

“I’ve always been able to talk to guys one-on-one. That’s easy for me. The toughest part is really ripping somebody. It just sucks. You don’t want to be a Debbie-downer out there but at the same time I’m going to be the one holding the football and I’m going to be the one standing at the podium talking to you guys after the game.” Sanchez said, “I’ll fall on the sword every time, but at the same time, those guys got to make catches, they’ve got to run the right route, they’ve got to be where they’re supposed to be and be accountable and it’s my job to hold them accountable.

“Same thing during (training) camp, talking about it’s my huddle. We joked about it, but when we get in the huddle it’s serious. If you don’t run the right route in zone and you think it’s man-to-man, you’re either going to get your head knocked off or we’re going to throw an interception. That’s the reality and that’s what you have to convey to these guys. It’s not that, hey, I’m mad at you Jeff Cumberland (for example), it’s hey man, I’m trying to help us. It’s all for us. Sometimes it’s the worst part of what you have to do but you’ve got to do it.”

Sanchez said he has learned to be more vocal and hold his teammates responsible, but he noted that’s something that comes with time. “A little bit. I mean, it takes time. It takes a certain level of comfort and confidence, but that’s the way it has to be.”

Some people will point to the way Sanchez has been known to shrug, lower his head and pout as proof that he’s weak, I say Eli Manning still does that even after two Super Bowl MVP performances. So maybe I just have a different definition of ‘mentally weak,’ I’m sure some will say he is mentally weak, but mean relatively speaking as far as NFL quarterbacks go he’s mentally weak but I don’t think those people watched him very closely in his playoff games.

Whenever a debate about Sanchez breaks out you will inevitably hear two counter points made, ‘but he got to the AFC Championship game twice in his first two years’ and ‘yeah the Jets went to two straight AFC Championship games in his first two years, but they did it in spite of Sanchez not because of him.’ And naturally the truth is somewhere in between.

If one wants to argue the Jets made the playoffs in Sanchez’s first two years in spite of him, not because of him then fine. That would be a valid point, but the playoff games they won? Sanchez had a huge hand in making that possible, he played the best games of his career in those playoff games (beating Rivers, Peyton and Brady in three of those games). Sanchez was as big of a reason they won those playoff games as anyone else.

Remember during those first two seasons how, with a few exceptions in his rookie year, Sanchez would look horrible for three quarters then all of a sudden miraculously transform into a more than competent quarterback in the fourth? Mentally weak quarterbacks don’t make a habit out of bouncing back.

It’s true that we didn’t see any of that last year, but let’s be honest the entire offense was a mess last year. Between the offensive line troubles (not just Hunter but the whole line struggled to get in rhythm after the Mangold injury) and dissension in the ranks among wide receivers and a certain coach, the offense never stood a chance to be productive. And to top it off, the Jets haven’t exactly helped him by playing musical chairs with his receiving options every year he’s been here.

So with the heavy media scrutiny he is under, does Sanchez feel like he has more to prove this year? “I think this team has something to prove to each other and not to anybody on the outside. We are accountable to each other in here and that is really the only opinion that matters, the opinions in this locker room.”

Will predictions regarding preseason ranking drive him to perform? “Human nature (will make you think), ‘Well, we are better than what they say.’  Who cares what they say? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t affect our practice. It doesn’t affect our performance. We have to rely on each other.”

Earlier this week when Santonio Holmes said Sanchez was “rattled” by the news of the Jets trading for Tebow, Sanchez’s detractors pounced on the quote. I heard the quote and thought, sure who wouldn’t be a little rattled in that moment? Imagine you’re a young quarterback going into your fourth season coming off your worst season (8-8) after making the AFC Championship game in your first two years and just signed a contract extension, then you hear your team is trading for the most talked about quarterback in the NFL, that’s not going to confuse and or worry you a bit?

Holmes didn’t say Sanchez cried or acted like he was about to quit, he said, “I think since day one it was a focus that kind of rattled him a little. And I use that word only to say, ‘Wow, how did this happen?'”

Sounds like a perfectly reasonable response. Here he was thinking it was a down year, but his coaches still believed in him and were going to give him every chance to succeed and then blam! He gets blindsided by the news his team traded for another quarterback who just happens to be the darling of the sports world. If you get news that your boss hired someone that could potential be a threat to your job, there’s something wrong with you if that news doesn’t rattle you a little bit at first, but then you shake it off and go out and remind everyone why this job is yours’ and that’s exactly what he has been doing ever since.

“Spending time with Mark, I think he’s more focused this season. He’s excited in replacing (redeeming) himself from what he did last year.” Holmes said, “We’re excited for him because the things that we’ve been seeing from the OTA’s and even during the offseason, before OTA”s came about, that he had a different focus for the season. I’m going to ride with him until the end.”

It’s clear to anyone who has been around practices that Sanchez has a different mindset, a different focus, this year. That comes from growth and he’s not done growing yet.

“I’m starting to become one of the veterans here (so) it’s all the more important to do everything right.” Sanchez said, “To be sharp, to be solid in my play that guys look to me as an example of how to do things right and how to work and how to study and prepare. That’s really my goal is just to lead these guys. When you have to get on them, get on them, but for the most part just (lead) by example.”

I’ve seen Sanchez step up and absorb all the heat and criticism, even when no one would’ve blamed him for trying to sidestep some here or there. I’ve seen him continue to show up and attack his job with professionalism. I’ve seen him shake off rough starts and lead a spirited comeback and I’ve seen him play his best games in the games that matter most. It’s for all these reasons and more that I can’t say he’s mentally weak.

Sanchez may not ever develop into a consistently elite quarterback, but it won’t be because he isn’t mentally tough enough.

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