Sanchez outplays Tebow, but . . .

Jets quarterbacks Mark Sanchez, left, and Tim Tebow

Jets quarterbacks Mark Sanchez, left, and Tim Tebow throw passes during drills at the Atlantic Health practice facility. (May 24, 2012) (Credit: Joe Epstein)

Bob Glauber

Newsday columnist Bob Glauber Bob Glauber

Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J.

Mark Sanchez took the snap, faded back in the pocket and threw a pass just a split-second before tight end Dustin Keller made his cut to the outside. The ball arrived at the same moment as Keller.

A few plays later, Sanchez found second-year receiver Jeremy Kerley on a crossing route. Kerley caught the pass in stride and ran in for a touchdown.

After that, it was Sanchez lofting a perfectly thrown ball down the left sideline to rookie speedster Stephen Hill on a "go" route, good for another touchdown.

Tim Tebow? Not so much.

The Jets' new quarterback, penciled in as Sanchez's backup and Wildcat package leader, had some rocky moments in his turn to run the offense.

A pass over the middle was intercepted by linebacker Bart Scott. Next one, he hesitated too long while trying to find a receiver and ran into the arms of a defender. After that, it was another errant pass over the middle, this one intercepted by safety Yeremiah Bell.

In the dissection that is the Sanchez-Tebow on-field relationship, this was just a snippet of how things are going in the early stages. We're still more than three months away from the regular season. The drills were seven-on-seven and the players were in helmets and shorts, with no contact. But you may as well get used to the day-by-day -- and play-by-play -- analysis, because it's here to stay.

As soon as the Jets traded for the former Broncos quarterback, they knew this kind of scrutiny would follow. Especially with a quarterback like Tebow, one of the most widely discussed -- and most polarizing -- players in the NFL. His status as a cultural icon, complete with the "Tebowing" phenomenon, only adds to the intensity of the on-field analysis.

There will be more twists and turns, so it's wise not to make sweeping judgments. But for at least one day of one offseason training session, Sanchez was by far the more polished quarterback, one who looked comfortable as the Jets' leader, even with the speculation accompanied by Tebow's mere presence.

"[Tebow's] popularity drives a lot of that," Sanchez said after practice, looking just as comfortable before a gaggle of media as he did on the field. "At the same time, I wouldn't be in this position if I couldn't handle it. And I'm prepared for it."

That remains to be seen because no one knows just how Sanchez will handle things once the games start and if -- or more likely when -- he struggles and ignites the controversy so many have come to expect with Tebow as his backup. It's easy to be comfortable at this time of year. It's when the completions don't come as easily that there will be a true test of whether Sanchez has the mettle to persevere through the tough times.

In his first three years with the Jets, Sanchez never had a player behind him who could threaten his status as the unquestioned starter. A young Kellen Clemens and then an aging Mark Brunell in Years 2 and 3 were not viable alternatives. Tebow, who led the Broncos to the playoffs last season with a series of electrifying comeback wins, certainly is.

And if we've learned one thing about Tebow and his struggles, such as the ones yesterday, it's this: You never discount the man entirely, no matter what happens in the early going.

Sanchez may have won the day Thursday, but that tiny snippet isn't necessarily a harbinger of what will happen when the games start to count.

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