Exclusive: Namath defends Sanchez against teammates’ claims of laziness

A flurry of criticism surrounding New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez this past week, most from unnamed sources, is puzzling to Jets legend Joe Namath, a contributor to Yahoo! Sports and the Shutdown Corner Blog. The Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, who has been critical of Sanchez's development — or lack thereof — was skeptical of anonymous quotes in a New York City paper calling Sanchez "lazy."

The story also said that the quarterback, the No. 5 selection in the 2009 NFL Draft and the Jets' incumbent starter since Week 1 of his rookie season, lacks motivation because "he knows he's not going to get benched." Namath bristled at the criticism.

"No, I've never heard or seen that — that he's lazy. In fact from day one, talking with the coaches and coordinators, they rave about Mark's work," Namath told Yahoo! Sports.

"That to me was a stretch what [the anonymous source] said. We don't know who said it but whoever did — all I can say is 'Wow.' The one thing about Mark that has been consistent is his work ethic. Another thing, you've never heard him go against his teammates ever and he's had plenty of opportunities. He's been admirably professional that way."

It is easy to look at Sanchez's numbers and see gains. His completions were up and the touchdown-to-interception ratio was the best of his career. But his quarterback rating remained muddled in the 70s, his interceptions increased over the last year and his quarterback rating showed little improvement. Sanchez's rather average season was seen as a reason why the Jets were 8-8 and missed out on the playoffs despite Super Bowl expectations.

And his off the field dalliances - Sanchez remains the center of a number of numerous rendezvous rumors and trysts - seemed to reinforce the sources saying he was lacking discipline. From Namath's perspective, Sanchez's performance on the field should be making greater strides even as he refuses to question the quarterback's work ethic.

But if there's one quarterback in NFL history who knows to balance "playing the field" on and off the gridiron, it would be Namath. In that regard, nobody would better understand Sanchez's side of things.

"He has translated a lot of the work in practice onto the field but sometimes in practice you try to develop some timing with your receivers and the defense you're going against tries to give you a certain look and lets you do things you really can't do on the field because they're playing an assignment they're told to," Namath said. "A couple of his interceptions this year, well, it looks like he was expecting the defensive player to not be there based off what he did in practice. He did everything just the way he was supposed to and coached to but then he makes the throw and the defense mixed it up, gave a different look. And that ball was already out of his hands because he anticipated something else."

The report of Sanchez lacking discipline irked Namath, who said the place for such criticism "should have taken place in a team meeting, in the locker room, not like this." It is the offspring of a disappointing season said Namath.

The Jets are hopeful that the hiring of former Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano as offensive coordinator will help Sanchez's development. The timing of the Sparano announcement, named within 12 hours after the Jets released a statement saying that Brian Schottenheimer chose to end his six years with the team, drew a raised eyebrow from Namath.

"When I heard Tony Sparano got the offensive coordinator job, I was stunned. It happened so fast, it must have been something they had been planning for a while. You don't plan on an offensive coordinator getting a job or needing to replace him," Namath said. "It all happened so fast."

Sparano, who did have some play-calling duties during his tenure as offensive line coach of the Dallas Cowboys, has never been a coordinator in the NFL. And while he did coach some personalities in Miami, the Jets boast a handful of ego issues on offense in players like wide receiver Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress.

"Tony Sparano as offensive coordinator, well, I really liked his strength and character but as an offensive coordinator, it remains to be seen. Maybe the job is more about allocating resources to the assistant coaches and he can focus on the bigger picture. But Sparano is such a strong guy that he can control the prima donnas on that offense, especially those wide receivers on the outside," Namath said.

"But he's never been an offensive coordinator."

Follow Kristian R. Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer

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