Sometimes the signs of Mark Sanchez's increased leadership role are obvious, like the public shots he took at teammates after the melee that erupted during Monday's practice. Other times, the signs are much quieter, heard only to those in the huddle. Or in the classroom, where Sanchez is always the first with an answer to questions about the complex scheme being introduced by new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano.
But all the signs invariably point to the conclusion that Sanchez demonstrably has elevated his standing among his coaches and teammates, even though he has yet to throw a regular-season pass since his late-season meltdown that cost the Jets a playoff berth last year.
Sanchez feels it. His coaches do, too. And perhaps most importantly, so do his teammates, the ones who have gained newfound respect for their fourth-year quarterback after what they've seen from him in the offseason and now in training camp. "He gets respect from every single guy on this offense," tight end Dustin Keller said of his quarterback. "When you see him giving it his all, and all he's given to this team and this offense and the work he's put in, you can't help but respect every word that comes out of his mouth."
It hasn't always been that way for Sanchez, who met with almost immediate success as a rookie, helping the Jets to the first of two straight AFC Championship Game appearances. But he'll be the first to admit he was merely treading water that first year, trying not to drown in a sea of X's and O's. "I was just trying to stay afloat," Sanchez said of his rookie season.
"I'm trying to anticipate things, especially on the field," he said. "I feel a lot better. Better decisions, better accuracy, and that just comes with playing and experience."
Sanchez also is deftly handling the potentially awkward presence of Tim Tebow, whom the Jets refer to as Sanchez's backup but who could very well be placed into a more prominent role in the event Sanchez struggles.
But if anything, Tebow's presence has been just another catalyst for Sanchez to raise his standing among those around him. Rather than shrink from the challenge, Sanchez embraces it.
"I think he's done a great job, not only with his own preparation but in really holding guys accountable," center Nick Mangold said. "He's had such a great command in the huddle. You see it every day. You see that true quarterback leader coming out."
Santonio Holmes, an occasional critic of Sanchez last year, has noticed a difference. "He's a lot more humble," Holmes said. "He's having a lot of fun and is excited about the offense. He is working much more on his mechanics than he has in the past. He is understanding what the concepts are when we run routes versus different coverages."
Of course, the ultimate barometer of Sanchez's leadership will be measured in terms of wins and losses and how he plays. And if he doesn't match his performance in the regular season with a notable improvement in his grasp of the Jets' offense, then all the want-to in the world won't amount to much.
We will get our next indication, albeit a brief one, of Sanchez's progress Friday night in Cincinnati, when the Jets open the preseason against the Bengals. But the true measure of his development won't come until next month, when the games count.