PHILADELPHIA, PA (CBS)— Mark Sanchez appears older than 27. Maybe it comes from the weight of misplaced blame he bore for the debacle that’s become the New York Jets. Maybe it’s from a season in which he sat, recovering from the worst injury of his career, a torn labrum in his right shoulder that forced the Jets to move in the Geno Smith direction.
Whatever it is, there is sagacity in Sanchez’s eyes. There also appears to be something else, too—contentment.
Maybe Eagles’ coach Chip Kelly is a “Quarterback Whisperer,” because Sanchez, the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft, is in a far more genial place, where the “butt fumble” and a lost season seem like dots in the distance.
Kelly has been very impressed by Sanchez, who’s throwing crisp, accurate passes. Through two preseason games against the twos, Sanchez has completed 18 of 22 for 196 yards and two touchdowns. He’s looking like a starter again, and if Nick Foles were to go down, it appears the Eagles will be in capable hands with Sanchez.
Maybe that’s because Sanchez feels good about himself. He enjoys playing football again.
“I’m just having a good time,” Sanchez said. “I love the facilities, I love the team, a ton of talent, I love the system and the coaching staff. It’s different. I am having fun. We had some tough times [in New York]. We battled through some injuries, personally, and as a team, and the coaching staff turned over. That’s a part of this league and this game.
“When things don’t work out, you just keep on plugging and try to get better and learn from those experiences. If there comes a time to move on, like it did, then you move on and try your best somewhere else and wish the guys you were with the very best.”
Sanchez said, even at 27, he’s still maturing. He’s experienced some of the highest highs in the NFL, road playoff wins, two-straight AFC championship games; and the lowest lows, a 6-10 finish in 2012 in which Sanchez unjustifiably received more than his share of the blame.
“You experience success so early against a ton of odds and you go through a bunch of turnover, and things change, and things aren’t as fun and things aren’t as good,” Sanchez said. “We weren’t playing as well; I’m not playing as well. Then you get benched, you become the starter again, you miss an entire season. I mean a lot of things happened.
“But through all of that, I still tried to work as hard as I could. I still tried to better myself. I still tried to motivate my teammates and make the guys around me better. Nothing has changed with me, except that I learned that I can make it through anything. I’m battle tested.”
Sanchez stressed that he never doubted his recovery from the torn labrum, suffered in the fourth quarter of the Jets’ third 2013 preseason game, against the New York Giants, behind a backup offensive line. It was a situation in which Sanchez shouldn’t have been in the game at all.
Though it’s only two games, you sense this preseason has been cleansing for Sanchez. He won’t call it a rebirth, but it has reaffirmed he can still be a viable option for any team he plays for. He’s more relaxed.
If you saw him Friday night against the Pats, you couldn’t miss the smile. It’s been constant since training camp began.
“Missing a whole season, I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy,” Sanchez said. “You learn a lot about yourself in situations like that. During rehab, I got to spend a ton of time with people I was already close to and became closer. It was a great experience. I got to spend a ton of time with my family. I feel healthy and why not throw it the best I can. I do feel healthy. You put in the work and the dedication, it is a rewarding experience. I am having fun again.
“My shoulder feels great and that has a lot to do with it. I have great confidence and great zip on the ball, so I don’t really second guess anything. I just go out and play. There is also a lot that’s going into this [success] around me. The offensive line is blocking well, Jordan Matthews comes alive the other night.”
Sanchez loves Kelly’s system. It affords Sanchez to let him “cut it loose.”
“It’s [Kelly] and his team around him,” Sanchez emphasized. “You see a great coach [Kelly], and they have a great team, as in players, but a great team of coaches around them. It’s coach [Pat] Shurmur, it’s coach [Bill] Musgrave, all those guys. It’s a testament to their work ethic, too. A lot of people are [invested] in this, from my family, to everyone that worked with me during rehab, to the Eagles that showed confidence in signing me, and these guys I have around me.”
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