FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Mark Sanchez is here working. He's not just doing interviews and charity dinners and GQ photo shoots. The fifth pick in last month's draft stayed at the Jets' practice facility until 10 pm Wednesday night, picking coaches' brains, watching video, studying playbooks...
"Name it," Sanchez said. "I've made friends with the cleanup crew."
But all that work didn't keep Thursday from being another rough day along the learning curve for the former USC quarterback, who threw a couple of ugly interceptions, overthrew some passes in red zone drills and generally looked like...well, a rookie who's learning the NFL ropes.
"It was a little rough," Sanchez said. "Interception in the red zone, that was bad. Got to take care of the football better than that. They're throwing everything at me as a rookie. They want it to be hard, and that's fine with me."
As the Jets go through their OTAs, the defense looks very sharp and the offense looks ragged. That could be a preview of the Jets' 2009 regular season. They seem to have far fewer holes and more overall talent on defense than they do on offense, where they'll use a rookie quarterback and they're still looking for receivers.
Coach Rex Ryan's defense prides itself on confusing the opposing offense with multiple shifts and sets and misdirection, and in the case of Sanchez, it's working.
"I'm learning quite a bit about how different this defense is from anything we saw at USC," Sanchez said. "Bart Scott and those guys are running all over the place, undercutting balls and making plays just because they're reading my eyes. It's great for a rookie. You want to be thrown into the fire right away. You want it to be tough."
Sanchez is technically in a competition with Kellen Clemens (who left practice early because his wife went into labor) for the starting QB job. But everybody expects Sanchez to win it, and he'd basically have to fall totally on his face in training camp not to get the nod. So every move he makes (and every throw he misses) is chronicled, even in May, and he understands that. He's monitoring as well.
"It was a lot better than last week," Sanchez said. "Progress is important, and those miscues are supposed to happen for a rookie. But I'm working at it. I want to master it by tomorrow. I'm already late. That's the way I look at it."
Ryan said he's seen some encouraging things from Sanchez in the workouts the past two days, and he's pleased to see his defense making life difficult for the new kid.
"You can't tell that other team, 'Hey, can you just play Cover 3?' " Ryan said. "College is over, so let's go. I think one thing he needs to have is a greater sense of urgency before the ball is snapped, because he's certainly got it when it's in his hands. So we're working with him on that."
Ryan does like the way Sanchez has fit in among the chatterboxes that dot the field during his team's workouts.
"I think he's getting more confident," Ryan said. "I think the guys feel good about him. They certainly harrass him enough."
Some veterans mock-applauded when Sanchez walked into the locker room, where a crowd of reporters had already circled his locker. Scott, the defense's vocal leader, called him by the nickname "Skittles" (an explanation of which will require some more in-depth reporting). And Sanchez said he'd received plenty of abuse from veterans for his recept GQ photo shoot.
But at the same time, he wants everybody to know he's here to work.
"Ask anybody in this building, and they know what I'm about," Sanchez said. "This team drafted me for one reason, and that's to play football. That's what I'm hre every day working on, trying to get better as fast as I can."