PHILADELPHIA - Mark Sanchez awaited the snap from the shotgun formation, surveyed the defense and then got the ball. Fading quickly back to pass, the quarterback waited for rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews to make his break from left to right down the middle of the field before delivering a tight spiral. Matthews caught the ball in stride, raced around the edge and headed for the end zone.
The former Jets quarterback looked entirely comfortable in his new digs and in his new uniform -- No. 3 this time, with kicker Alex Henery now wearing No. 6 -- eager for the next chapter in an eventful career that has seen some terrific moments, but some agonizing ones, too.
"It's the next chapter, approach every new season the same and learn things along the way, so I guess it'll change a little bit, but your attitude of excitement and anticipation, that will never change," the Eagles' new backup quarterback said Monday after a spirited practice at Lincoln Financial Field. "I've been privileged to have a lot of games under my belt, and I'm going to help [starter] Nick [Foles] as much as I can. And if there's an opportunity to play and this team needs me, I've got to do my best."
Sanchez gets a fresh start after ending his five-year run with the Jets, moving on from a lost season in 2013 when he sat out the entire year because of a preseason shoulder injury.
A shoulder injury that would never have happened were it not for Rex Ryan's ill-fated decision to play Sanchez in the fourth quarter of a meaningless game against the Giants. But this is not a time of looking back with regret -- or anger -- for Sanchez.
The relentlessly optimistic Sanchez still believes there is plenty of football left to his career at age 27. It is a time to appreciate what he has, especially after experiencing a year without the game he loves.
"It's just an empty feeling, career-wise," Sanchez said of sitting out the season. "Family-wise, I got to see a lot of my family. I got to see my nephew [Nico] quite a bit. I went to a bunch of basketball games of his and Little League games and stuff, and that was hard because I can't go practice with him [because of the injury]. I couldn't really do anything yet. It's just a different feeling but it did give me a different perspective. It made me appreciate playing even more, and it showed me how fragile things are and how quickly things can change, not only for the worse, but for the better. It's been a long road, but we recovered and it feels good. I feel great."
The strength is fully back in his right shoulder, which was surgically repaired last year after Sanchez couldn't rehab the injury sufficiently to return to the lineup. "I don't even second-guess throws anymore," he said. "I think during OTAs [organized team activities this spring], I was still feeling things out. Mentally I felt good but physically I definitely wasn't all the way there, and now it's just balls jumping out of my hand and I feel great."
Sanchez doesn't blame Rex Ryan -- who put him in that meaningless preseason game against the Giants when he suffered the injury -- and believes the experience will ultimately benefit him.
"That whole month right after when I was going into surgery, that's when I was disappointed because I wasn't going to be able to play," Sanchez said. "I wasn't mad at anybody. I wasn't upset. Coach [Ryan] wanted me to go in the game . . . I'm never going to say no to that . . . If that didn't happen, maybe I wouldn't be here, maybe I wouldn't have met the guys I met, learned this offense that I'm learning now, so there's a lot of good things to come from it."
Because Sanchez was released by the Jets after the start of free agency, he didn't get a crack at starting jobs in Oakland and Houston, settling instead for Chip Kelly's offense.
Kelly is glad to have Sanchez. "I think he's healthy now," he said. " . . . We are really excited to have him, because you need to have a couple quarterbacks in this league, because very rarely does your No. 1 make it through the entire season."
The only way Sanchez plays a meaningful role is if Foles gets hurt, something Sanchez doesn't want to see happen. If it does, he'll be ready. After a career that started with back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances and then saw some bad times that hit bottom with the "butt fumble" against the Patriots on Thanksgiving night in 2012, Sanchez enters the next phase of his career with something just as important as his physical ability: perspective.
"I'm like, man, I've been through it all. What else is there?" Sanchez said. "I'm not afraid of anything. I'm not apprehensive about anything. Let's just go play ball and have fun doing it. I had a ton of experience that will only help me."