As a rookie, Mark Sanchez helped lead the New York Jets to an improbable AFC Championship appearance, elevating his game in the postseason. And former Jets signalcaller Boomer Esiason believes that rise is set to continue in September.
“This is usually where the players make their biggest jump and I suspect, with Mark’s personality and the way he handled the downturns last year, he’ll be ready to roll,” Boom told me this week before the 15th annual Empire Challenge kicked off at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium. “I sense an air of confidence about him this offseason. Everything I’ve read and every interview I’ve seen him do leads me to believe he’s ready to take that next step.”
In 15 regular-season games, Sanchez completed 53.8 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. But in three postseason contests he upped his accuracy, hitting on 60.3 percent of his balls with four touchdowns and two picks.
“Now what that next step will be will be determined by how comfortable he gets with his new wide receivers, how good he feels with his young running back and really how the offensive line plays,” Esiason said. “I think he really should be able to lead the Jets back to the playoffs — and who knows, maybe even the Super Bowl.”
Jets Nation is at a fever pitch. Excitement has reached an unprecedented level because New York’s AFC representative has assembled one of its most talented rosters in franchise history.
Esiason, who played three of his 14 NFL seasons with the Green & White, said that if he were a fan, "I’m excited about Rex Ryan and I love the fact that he brings a new intensity to the football team. I love the fact that you have the best defense in football. I think it’s only going to get better. I love their draft picks. There is a lot to be excited about.
"I don’t necessarily know if Jets fans have been this excited since 1999 when Bill Parcells was ready to take them all the way to the AFC Championship Game. This is going to be a fun year for the Jets. But I also know, like every other team, there are issues that have to be handled before the season starts.”
Esiason, who serves as the popular co-host on a morning radio show on WFAN in New York, doesn’t point to problems on the field. He believes the Jets have made a couple of risky offseason moves and there is also all the well-publicized news on the contract front.
“I think they did a lot of good things in the offseason. They were very careful how they spent their money, brining in Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes. Even though those guys have character issues, I think Mike Tannenbaum sensed he could get really good players for a cheap price," Boomer said.
"But he still has problems in that locker room. I don’t care what anybody says. When you let go of guys like Alan Faneca and Thomas Jones and Leon Washington, people are starting to worry in that locker room, ‘What’s going to happen to me next?’ And now you have guys that are chirping about new contracts and you have a potential CBA issue coming up. There are things you have to get over with and I’m not so sure those things are positive at this present time.”
But Esiason is nothing but positive on Sanchez. What kind of advice would he give the SoCal sensation before he starts up his sophomore campaign?
“I think, with the exception of maybe a few blips along the way, that he handled everything beautifully, and I would expect the maturity — he’s still only 23 years old — will be distinctly evident from where he was last year at this time,” Boomer said. “Let the game come to you, don’t force the issue. You have a lot of good players around you, you have a great coach and you have a great supporting cast. So he’ll be fine.”
Tags: Alan Faneca, Bill Parcells, Boomer Esiason, Empire Challenge, Leon Washington, Mark Sanchez, Thomas Jones
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