Short-lived college stint hurting Sanchez

While one longtime NFL personnel man is surprised by Mark Sanchez’s(notes) struggles, another could have anticipated the prized New York Jets’ passer’s prolonged growing pains.

“It amazes me that he’s struggling this much with all the talent they have put around him,” one AFC general manager said. “I’m not a fan of [wide receiver] Braylon Edwards(notes), but you can’t deny that he’s a good player. Not great, but good. Put him next to [wide receiver Santonio] Holmes and [tight end Dustin] Keller and give him two pretty good backs [LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) and Shonn Greene(notes)] … this should be pretty easy, even for a young quarterback.”

So what’s the problem?

“It’s totally about experience,” an NFC personnel man said. “This is what you get when guys jump to the NFL before they’re ready. … He’s talented and I think he’s going to work his way through it, but this league punishes you when you have a flaw and this kid has a big one that he falls into.”

Sanchez, who left USC after starting only 16 games, has yet to learn what passes you can and can’t throw at this level because he never really learned what he could or couldn’t do at the collegiate level.

In the Jets’ past two games, both losses to the division-rival Patriots and Dolphins, Sanchez hasn’t completed even half of his passes (34-of-77) and thrown for 380 combined yards with four interceptions and no touchdowns. In the past eight games, he has 12 interceptions compared to eight touchdown passes.

[Related: Mark Sanchez’ unpaid Taco Bell endorsement]

“I love his confidence and I think he can handle all the crap he’s going to get in New York for all these mistakes. I think it takes a lot to really get under his skin,” the NFC personnel man said. “I hear people say he’s soft because he’s from Southern Cal, but that’s not the case. He’s not afraid. He’s still sitting back there and firing, throwing tough, gutsy passes. He’s just throwing the wrong pass.”

A perfect illustration of that came against New England in the Monday night massacre the Jets suffered on Dec. 6. The quick hit over the middle from inside the Patriots’ 10-yard line that Sanchez threw for an interception to rookie linebacker Brandon Spikes(notes) was one that Sanchez should have learned long ago is impossible to complete.

[Related: Jets assistant’s hefty fine for tripping player]

“That’s one where you get the feeling he thinks he’s still playing against high school kids and he can throw it past them before they react,” the NFC personnel man said. “It’s such a bad play. It’s like, ‘Where do I start?’ First of all, New England is doing everything to take away that throw, so you should automatically go somewhere else or you audible to a run. Whatever you do, you get out of that play.”

The AFC GM agreed.

[Related: Top quarterbacks of 2010 NFL draft]

“He just hasn’t learned that the other guys are just as good as him, if not better. It’s athletic arrogance, which is good. That helps you survive the mistakes. But it’s something he should have learned before. This is why quarterbacks should always stay in college. Get those throws out of your system.”

Sanchez loses a fumble during Sunday’s loss to Miami.
(Kathy Willens/AP Photo)

The real issue, as both executives pointed out, is that the Jets are simultaneously trying to win a Super Bowl while developing a quarterback.

“There’s a lot of pressure on Sanchez because [coach] Rex [Ryan] has promised a lot,” the AFC general manager said. “I love Rex’s attitude, but Sanchez just isn’t there yet.”

And at this point, the Jets don’t really have an alternative to Sanchez. While backup quarterback Mark Brunell(notes) is a good mentor for Sanchez because of the former’s vast experience, the opinion of these executives and several others around the league is that Brunell is done.

“If [Brunell] has to play more than a few series, look out,” the NFC personnel man said. “He’s scared right now. He’s looking at the pass rush, not downfield. If you think the situation is bad now, it’s going to be ugly with Brunell.”


Luck mulling decision

Luck was the runner-up in this year’s Heisman Trophy voting.
(Jason O. Watson/US Presswire)

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who many consider the likely top pick in the 2011 NFL draft if he decides to come out early, will wait until after the Orange Bowl to decide, Luck’s father said Monday.

Oliver Luck, West Virginia’s athletic director and a former NFL quarterback, said he has looked into the disability insurance the NCAA offers for players who want to stay. The 2011 season would be the first in which Luck was eligible for the insurance, but the max policy is $3 million. That’s a far cry from the potential of making more than $50 million guaranteed if he’s the top pick (or $30 million or so even if he’s not). That said, the elder Luck holds an education and the experience of college in high regard.

The elder Luck, who is also a lawyer, chuckled lightly about the situation.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Oliver Luck said.

Top five
1. New England Patriots (11-2):
During their five-game winning streak, the Patriots have decisively beaten the Bears, Jets and Steelers. Pretty impressive stuff.
2. Atlanta Falcons (11-2): The Falcons did what they were supposed to do against Carolina. Big game against Saints is all that remains.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3): The defense is picking it up again at just the right time, although figuring out how to deal with the Pats is imperative.
4. New Orleans Saints (10-3): Defending champs are on a roll at the right time and have more than enough confidence to win on the road in the playoffs, if necessary.
5. New York Giants (9-4): QB Eli Manning(notes) has this infuriating ability to look brilliant most of the time and God-awful at others.

Bottom five
28. Detroit Lions (3-10):
The Lions finally won a close game, but producing only seven points doesn’t get a team out of the bottom five. However, Detroit is well ahead of the next four.
29. Arizona Cardinals (4-9): Nice work by John Skelton(notes). Here’s hoping he gets a little more mobility to go with his big-time arm. If so, the Cardinals might have something.
30. Cincinnati Bengals (2-11): The worst part of Cincy’s swirling vortex of suckitude is that QB Carson Palmer(notes) looks just awful right now.
31. Denver Broncos (3-10): Rock bottom is getting drilled by … Arizona with a rookie backup quarterback. For those who think Kyle Orton(notes) is good, get a clue.
32. Carolina Panthers (1-12): No matter how bad things get, this season will never match the ugliness of the Rae Carruth year. Then again, just making that comparison is scary.

This and that

Aside from Luck, the opinion from multiple personnel men is that at least three other quarterbacks will go in the first round of next year’s draft if Auburn’s Cam Newton(notes), the Heisman Trophy winner who is under a cloud of NCAA investigation, comes out. “If Tim Tebow(notes) went in the first round, Newton will go in the first round. I’m not sure Newton is absolutely going to make it, but he has the physical skills,” one NFC director of college scouting said. Beyond Luck and Newton, Jake Locker of Washington and Ryan Mallett of Arkansas figure to also go in the opening round. Locker’s lack of accuracy is seen as a major concern, but he has the speed and other athletic skills. As for Mallett, his tendency to throw an odd pass on occasion is a concern. Some see him as potentially another Ben Roethlisberger(notes), others as the next Jim Druckenmiller.

Having discussed the Jets already, I’ll try not to belabor this point. However, the Jets made a big deal about how they wanted to portray a different image when they hired coach Rex Ryan. The idea was to be more out front and vocal. That’s fine, but in less than a calendar year, the team has had to deal with Ryan making back-page headlines by flipping off a drunk fan, Ryan receiving criticism for his over-the-top swearing on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” players bringing cheeseburgers to practice, the brewing controversy over players leering at a female reporter and questions regarding the Brett Favre(notes)-Jenn Sterger mess. Now strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi has been suspended for being an utter idiot by tripping a Dolphins player. In other words, the Jets could use a serious injection of common sense.

The Jacksonville Jaguars (and a number of their angry fans who email me whenever I rip the town for lacking the necessities to support an NFL team) continue to make a big deal of the fact that they have sold out all seven of their home games this season in time to lift the local blackout. Sounds good, but something doesn’t sit right with this situation. For Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders, any reasonable person would estimate that at least 20 percent of the seats were empty, making the claims of a sellout dubious to say the least. That doesn’t even account for the vast pockets of unsold club seats that don’t count toward the sellout number. The Jaguars have yet to explain the discrepancy. However, one reason to play up the attendance is that it helps maintain the value of the franchise whenever owner Wayne Weaver wants to sell it.

Congrats to the NFL’s head, neck and spine medical committee for recommending last week that the league sever any ties with helmet makers in an effort to help push further development in the industry. The opinion of the doctors who serve on the committee is that any company that is known as the “official” helmet maker of the NFL will have a strong advantage in marketing their equipment, preventing other manufacturers from gaining a foothold in the business. Logically, that will ultimately limit further development, the doctors believe. Riddell has been the official helmet maker for more than 20 years. “[My] preference would be that [the NFL] did not” have an official helmet, Dr. Hunt Batjer told the Associated Press last week. Batjer, who works at Northwestern University, is the co-chair of the committee. Dr. Robert Cantu, a senior adviser to the committee, was more direct. “We all don’t see the wisdom of that relationship other than severing it as soon as contractually you can.”

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Dec 14, 2010