Chad Pennington signals a teammate during a game against the...

Chad Pennington signals a teammate during a game against the Bills. Credit: David L. Pokress, 2007

The way Chad Pennington sees it, there is no in-between about what will happen with Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow: Either Sanchez raises his game and remains firmly entrenched as the Jets' starter in 2012, or else . . .

"Or else the Jets will lose, Mark will get the blame, and they'll put Tim in," the former Jets starter said from his home in South Florida. "One of those two things will happen. It's either/or, as far as I'm concerned. I don't think there's really any other scenario."

But from what Pennington has seen from Sanchez, both on the field the last three seasons and in several days' worth of extensive face-to-face meetings between the two quarterbacks in the offseason, Pennington is betting on Sanchez.

"[Sanchez] has the desire and the work ethic," said Pennington, the Jets' former first-round pick who started from 2002-07 before being released after the trade for Brett Favre.

"He made the effort to come to South Florida twice, and that says a lot. I think he probably wanted to reach out to me because of my experience with Tony [Sparano], and also because he knows I've been in the exact spot he's in right now -- playing in New York, experiencing some success as well as some failure."

It was Sanchez who actually sought out Pennington shortly after the Jets named the former Dolphins coach to replace offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. And during two separate visits between the current and former Jets quarterbacks, Pennington became convinced Sanchez has what it takes to lead the Jets back to the playoffs . . . and keep Tebowmania in check.

Pennington's best advice for Sanchez as the Jets begin training camp Thursday in upstate Cortland: "Stay out of your own way, stay confident in what you do and what you believe in, and let that confidence show with your teammates."

Easier said than done, as Pennington well knows. After all, it was around this time in 2008 that he was enjoying one of his best training camps and then -- boom! -- he was off the team. The Jets pulled off the trade for Favre and released Pennington, who signed as a free agent with the Dolphins.

But it was Pennington who got the last laugh on that one; while Favre's Jets faded after an 8-3 start, Pennington led the Dolphins to the AFC East title, clinching it with a win over the Jets at the Meadowlands on the season's final weekend.

Sanchez one day could find himself on another team, too, especially if he buckles from the pressure created by Tebow's presence. Forget all the assurances from Rex Ryan that Sanchez is the starter no matter what; if Sanchez struggles and the Jets lose, then Tebow is going to play. Period.

But Pennington believes that if Sanchez maintains his confidence, and if his teammates handle things properly, that scenario won't materialize. A big set of "ifs," and Pennington knows it. He already has seen the Jets mishandle the Tebow situation.

"I've never seen backup quarterbacks have a press conference," Pennington said. "As an organization, I would recommend you don't do that. There will be plenty of time to just let that come naturally. Don't force it. And a lot also depends on the players. In my opinion, there needs to be no opinions out there. The players and the team truly need to focus on what they have to do to win. If you win and take care of business, that's all that matters."

Sanchez ultimately will be a critical factor in whether the Jets do win. If he can rise above the noise the Jets have invited by trading for Tebow, then they can get back to the playoffs. If not, then Sanchez will be swept aside by the unrelenting tide of controversy and find out how Pennington felt when the Jets took his job away.


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