NEW YORK — The New York Jets have no quarterback controversy.
That's what Rex Ryan has insisted throughout the offseason. And as his players got together at the team's facility for the first time as they prepare for the season, the Jets coach again clearly defined the roles for Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow.
"Of course, Mark's the starter," Ryan said during a conference call Monday. "There's no question about it. That's how we look at it, but we know that Tim can help us, too. There's no doubt. ... Mark is our starting quarterback. We've said that. We understand Tim is a backup quarterback, but we also recognize the fact that this guy's an excellent football player and we're going to use his abilities."
The Jets briefly flirted with the idea of going after Peyton Manning before it was clear the former Indianapolis Colts star wasn't interested. New York then signed Sanchez to a three-year contract extension, showing confidence and a commitment to its young quarterback.
But things quickly — and surprisingly — changed as Manning signed with Denver, and the Broncos traded Tebow to the Jets for draft picks last month. Suddenly, the Jets had perhaps the NFL's most popular player at the same position in which they have a guy they drafted in the first round four years ago and have won four road playoff games with. Sanchez's role came into question, along with speculation over when — not if — Tebow will eventually overtake him for the starting job.
Sanchez has been widely criticized since the end of last season after he struggled to progress as many expected. A few unnamed Jets were also quoted in reports knocking the quarterback's abilities. Center Nick Mangold doesn't think Tebow's presence and high profile will cause Sanchez added anxiety.
"I think Mark's going to continue to be the same player and he's going to work his butt off, and he's going to be the quarterback that we need him to be," Mangold said. "If Mark was wishy-washy in his thoughts of his abilities and what his role was, I could see that creeping in, but Mark understands what he needs to do. And I think that sets the clear line. There's a lot of great backups in the league who can do the same things, but just don't have the same following that Tim does."
Added Ryan: "We're extremely happy to have both of them."
Tebow and Sanchez were among the players who reported to the team's facility in Florham Park, N.J., for voluntary workouts, marking the official start of preparations for the season. Ryan said a few players did not attend on the first day, but added that they aren't required to be there.
The plan, at least for now, is to have Sanchez lead new coordinator Tony Sparano's offense and use Tebow in a variety of packages, including the wildcat and in short-yardage situations.
"As much as any other trade or movement gets done, if it's going to help our team, I'm all for it," Mangold said. "I'm excited. Tim's won, obviously, a lot of games and brings a new dynamic for our offense."
Sanchez has tried to smooth the tensions in the Jets' locker room that helped lead to a disappointing 8-8 season. He and wide receiver Santonio Holmes were at the center of the issues, and their relationship was in serious need of repair, especially after Holmes was benched by former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer in the season finale in Miami for arguing with teammates in the huddle.
"It happened down in Miami," Holmes said, "and that's where it's going to stay: down in Miami."
Sanchez called Holmes in the offseason to get past their differences, and the two worked out together in Florida along with a few teammates.
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