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Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez is right on the mark for Jets' starting job

CORTLAND,N.Y.-Mark Sanchez has played before crowds of 100,000 at the Rose Bowl, so he wasn't about to let an untelevised scrimmage in front of 6,100 fans rattle him. But he ate only one bite of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich Thursday night at the pregame meal, and relaxed with his iPod to clear his mind.

"Just like game day," he said.

Fortunately for the Jets, and not so much for Kellen Clemens, Sanchez gave a Southern Cal-like performance in the annual Green and White game at SUNY-Cortland. In an offense-versus-defense scrimmage that included full contact (the quarterbacks were off limits), the Jets' ballyhooed rookie took a semi-significant step in the quarterback competition.

Sanchez, sharing first-team work with Clemens, completed nine of 17 passes for 70 yards - and four of the incompletions were drops. Somewhat surprisingly, the coaches let him run a methodical no-huddle offense - not a hurry-up - and he handled it reasonably well for a rookie.

The Jets' No. 1 pick outplayed Clemens (5-for-7, 26 yards), intensifying the QB battle on the one-year anniversary of the Brett Favre trade. On this night, they didn't solidify the position like they did by acquiring Favre, but Sanchez's performance caused a buzz within the organization.

Owner Woody Johnson liked it. Coach Rex Ryan loved it.

"I'm not a quarterback expert, but when guys were open, he was putting the ball on the mark and they would've been first downs, all of them," said Ryan, alluding to the four drops. "He was impressive to me. I keep talking about that deep sideline throw and the comeback (routes). You have to be able to make that throw, and he does consistently."

No one, though, was more excited about the rookie's performance than Sanchez himself.

"I was seeing things clearly and I was really in control," he said. "I was happy with my performance."

The first true test comes a week from tonight, when the Jets open the preseason against St. Louis. Presumably, Clemens will remain No. 1 on the depth chart, and it would be a surprise if he doesn't start against the Rams, but Sanchez is gaining. He probably has pulled even, maybe slightly ahead. But let's not get crazy. Noting they were wearing red jerseys, Ryan said, "Sometimes quarterbacks flinch when it's live."

Neither quarterback led his unit to a score, as the defense continued its camp-long dominance, but Sanchez moved the ball. His best throw was a 19-yard laser to Wallace Wright on a deep out pattern. Clemens tried only one ball downfield, and he underthrew Chansi Stuckey. Both quarterbacks had no turnovers as well.

Ryan thought Clemens did well, praising his grasp of the offense, saying, "He's able to move all the pieces. He knows how to run the team." At this point, that's Clemens' only advantage, albeit a significant one. But Sanchez is gaining there, too. He showed good command of the no-huddle, which will be a staple of Brian Schottenheimer's offense.

"I'm understanding the offense really well, and that really showed (tonight)," Sanchez said. "They allowed me a lot of freedom to run the no-huddle. If they weren't comfortable with that, they wouldn't let me do it. They would've made us huddle every time."

Johnson, who invested a $48 million contract in Sanchez, liked what he saw. But he wasn't about to play favorites.

"Especially after a draft, you always want to see what a guys looks like," the owner said. "This was the most real situation, by far."

Real good - for Sanchez.

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CORTLAND - Mark Sanchez felt jittery, barely able to take more than a single bite of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The Jets' rookie quarterback was preparing for the team's full-contact scrimmage last night and couldn't wait to get on the field.

"It was like game day," Sanchez said. "It was game mode. I put in the iPod and just laid down for a little bit, relaxed my mind and came out here and did a little work."

Sanchez outplayed Kellen Clemens in the team's green-white scrimmage in front of 6,100 at SUNY Cortland, perhaps giving himself the slight edge in the team's closely contested quarterback competition.

"I wanted to see poise," coach Rex Ryan said. "I also wanted to see the accuracy that he showed. He really did show up."

Sanchez, the fifth overall draft pick from Southern California, was 9 of 15 - including four dropped passes - for 70 yards while running the first- and second-team offenses against the first two defensive units.

"I felt great about throwing the football," said Sanchez, who looked good running the no-huddle offense at times. "It was spinning well and coming out of my hand great. Good protection; they were awesome."

Sanchez's numbers would've been even more impressive if not for the drops, three of which came on third-down plays. Two of the drops were by undrafted free agent Britt Davis.

"That's where you've got to focus more than anything," Ryan said. "Just catch the football first and we'll worry about running after it second. Just junior high stuff. That was disappointing."

Clemens, a fourth-year veteran who entered the competition No. 1 on the depth chart, was 5 of 7 for 26 yards. The offense went three-and-out on three drives with Clemens under center.

"The focus for me is more on myself than on what he's doing," Clemens said. "Obviously, I support him, but I'm not always counting and keeping score in that respect."

While Sanchez might have scored a victory in the scrimmage, Ryan and the Jets will get a better feel for who's on top when they play their preseason opener at home against St. Louis next Friday. Ryan would like to determine the starter by the team's third preseason game against the Giants.

While neither quarterback had a turnover, neither had a touchdown, either.

Notes: The Jets have today off from practice, and Ryan said some members of the team planned a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame

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CORTLAND -- Vernon Gholston knows all about the numbers. Most of them he would prefer to forget.

Start with being the No. 6 overall pick in the 2008 draft, playing 15 games and managing just four tackles on defense, one of which was solo.

Those are not good numbers.

This season, his second in the NFL, Gholston has changed his number -- from No. 56 to No. 50, which previously was worn by the departed Eric Barton.

Hopefully for Gholston and the Jets, who invested so much in him, his performance will change, too.

With starting linebacker Calvin Pace suspended for the first four games of the regular season, Rex Ryan quickly named Gholston the starter, so there will be a bright spotlight on how much better he is this year than last.

"Losing Calvin is big. It puts pressure on not only myself, but other linebackers to step up," Gholston said. "I'd definitely got to step in and be a starter. Whatever happens after the four games happens."

Gholston, who has shown flashes of good play in training camp the last week entering last night's scrimmage, said he believes he will be a different player this year. Gholston said he now has a year of experience and a full offseason to work on the system -- something he didn't have as a rookie because Ohio State's quarterly semesters cut into his learning time.

"I expect to be on the field more and to play more," Gholston said. "For me it's not about proving something. It's about just going out there and doing it. I expect to play at a high level, and I expect to be one of the best players.

"To say that's going to happen tomorrow, it's probably not. To say it's going to happen in a year, it's probably not. But at some point that's my expectation."

Ryan, who has been talking up Gholston, sounds like he expects big things from his second-year linebacker.

"I'm confident in what I see," Ryan said of Gholston. "He realizes now that this is it. We all know he's strong. He's all that kind of stuff. Now lets see it on the field. I think he's starting to show that.

"I just know he's going to be a big part of what we do and a big part of our success."

It's always unfair when a rookie is labeled with the dreaded "bust" tag, but those whispers persisted about Gholston last year and will continue to do so until he produces.

"As far as last year goes I don't worry about what people have to say," Gholston said. "I put more pressure on myself than anybody. My expectations are high. Coaches are going to put the best players out there in a position to win. Last year, I probably wasn't the best player."

Gholston said he believes being a part of the offseason program, which he wasn't last year, will pay huge dividends for him this year.

Gholston said he has "no doubt" he will be a better player this year.

"Just being in my second year and having some experience under your belt, that changes the world for everybody," he said. "Getting that rookie year out of the way, getting that off your back, makes a huge difference."

So should Ryan's attacking style of defense, which surely will put Gholston in some pass rushing positions to succeed.

He had 14 sacks in his senior year at Ohio State and barely got close enough to opposing quarterbacks last year to read the numbers on their jerseys.

"Early in the year I was out there a little more and I missed some sacks," Gholston said. "I just missed them. Sometimes you get overanxious about sacks. That stuff will come."

Gholston also delivered a somewhat veiled shot at the coaching staff from last year.

"First of all, you've got to be out there to get sacks," he said.

"The thing about sacks is you can go from zero to 10 pretty quickly," Gholston said. "The numbers add up."

He badly needs to accumulate some numbers in 2009 or those whispers about being a bust will become louder.

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Mark Sanchez may have asserted himself as the favorite to start at quarterback in last night's scrimmage.

Fortunately for the Jets, and not so much for Kellen Clemens, Sanchez gave a Southern Cal-like performance in the annual Green and White game at SUNY-Cortland. In an offense-versus-defense scrimmage that included full contact (the quarterbacks were off limits), the Jets' ballyhooed rookie took a semi-significant step in the quarterback competition.

Sanchez, sharing first-team work with Clemens, completed nine of 17 passes for 70 yards - and four of the incompletions were drops. Somewhat surprisingly, the coaches let him run a methodical no-huddle offense - not a hurry-up - and he handled it reasonably well for a rookie.

The Jets' No. 1 pick outplayed Clemens (5-for-7, 26 yards), intensifying the QB battle on the one-year anniversary of the Brett Favre trade. On this night, they didn't solidify the position like they did by acquiring Favre, but Sanchez's performance caused a buzz within the organization.

I'm starting to come around on the idea of Sanchez being the starting quarterback. At first, I was worried. Sanchez has a lot of pressure on him. You could wonder whether so few college starts prepared him for the big transition to the NFL game right off the bat. If he's showing this kind of poise and enough mastery of the offense to go no huddle at this early point, the best way to go might be to get the rookie into the lineup as soon as possible so he can get experience.

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