CORTLAND, N.Y. - We've seen plenty of quarterback battles over the years where the protagonists aren't exactly on friendly terms, and sometimes aren't even on speaking terms. But the Mark Sanchez-Geno Smith battle for the Jets' No. 1 job is about as civil and respectful a competition as you're ever going to find.
Not only are they on speaking terms, but Sanchez actually is going to great lengths to help Smith whenever he can. That's right. Even though Smith will do everything possible in the next several weeks to wrest the job from Sanchez, the Jets' incumbent quarterback is offering plenty of tips to the rookie.
On Day 1 of the competition Friday, Smith offered up the nugget in his post-practice news conference about Sanchez giving him valuable tips. (And for any cynics out there, Sanchez isn't purposely giving him bad advice as a way to sabotage Smith's chances.)
"I appreciate Mark for what he does for me on and off the field," Smith said. "He teaches me. He helps me get acclimated to the pro game, and we have a really good relationship. On the field, we encourage one another, but we also compete."
For now, Sanchez is ahead of Smith with his grasp of new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast system. That isn't surprising because Sanchez has incorporated elements of the offense before and has four years of experience at the pro level. But this will be an extensive and exhaustive competition, so don't read anything into Sanchez working with the first-string offense on the first day of practice. The two alternated working with the first team through much of their offseason practices, so that should be the case again in training camp.
But as there would be for any rookie quarterback, Smith has plenty of questions about formations, pass protections and his reads on any given play. And he feels comfortable going to his teammate with those questions.
"Mark's a great guy. He's always helping me, always willing to help me," said Smith, the Jets' second-round pick out of West Virginia. "From my knowledge, he's always helped everyone, including [backups] Greg [McElroy] and Matt [Simms]. That's the relationship we have. It's a good [meeting] room, and it helps for good competition."
So what's in it for Sanchez to help Smith, especially when the rookie is hoping to take away his job? It goes back to Sanchez's own rookie season, when he came to the Jets as the fifth overall pick in 2009 and dove right into a training camp competition with Kellen Clemens.
This was the first time Clemens had a chance to compete for the No. 1 job, but he made a point of helping Sanchez as much as he could. The lesson was not lost on Sanchez, who even invited Smith to his "Jets' West" quarterbacks camp earlier this month, an invitation Smith declined because he preferred to train at home in Florida.
"Kellen wasn't shy if I were to ask him a question to help me out," Sanchez said. "That's the way I learned. That's the way I was brought up in this league. I think it's the right thing to do. Maybe not everybody else does, but I do."
Say what you want about Sanchez as a quarterback -- let's face it, even if he wins the job, there's no guarantee he'll keep it the entire season -- but know this much: As a teammate, he's doing the right thing by reaching out to the competition and offering his help.
In the end, it'll be a fair fight for everyone involved -- as it should be.