CORTLAND -- Gone are the hunched over shoulders and the sad faces.
Anyone who has spent time around Mark Sanchez this offseason has noticed the transformation. He's secure in himself, and more importantly, he's secure in his status on the team.
Sanchez is the unequivocal leader of the New York Jets, and according to Bart Scott, he has the potential to finish the 2012 season right alongside the elite QBs in the game.
The Jets linebacker said Wednesday that Sanchez has all the tools to kick his level of play up a notch in his fourth year, just like quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Eli Manning did.
And therefore, the expectations for the Jets quarterback are simple.
"To take the next step to being one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league," said Scott.
Despite the "little hiccups" that come with adjusting to a new offensive coordinator, Scott said the game tends to slow down for quarterbacks in “Year Four” – and as a result, Sanchez’s growth and production on the field should be much-improved.
"Last year you saw Joe Flacco take the next step,” the Jets linebacker said. “And you can see Mark do the same."
So did Eli Manning.
The Giants quarterback was questioned early in his career by pundits who didn't believe he had the wherewithal, mental toughness or physical fortitude to improve. The team went 1-6 in Manning’s rookie campaign and it took almost four seasons before he was able to lead the Giants to four playoff wins, including an upset of the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
And Manning out-did himself last season, en route to claiming his second Lombardi Trophy.
The confidence the Jets have in Sanchez is clear in the way they describe him now.
“I think everybody’s seen a difference in how he walks, how he handles it if he throws a bad ball, how he carries himself,” said Scott. “Mark’s always been a guy that you can see his emotion and how he’s feeling about himself on his facial expressions.
"But I think now he carries himself upright. He sticks that chest out like a peacock. And I think that really shows confidence to him but it also helps and inspires his players because they respond because he’s the leader and they’re going to go as he goes.”
Though Scott said it’s somewhat unfair to compare quarterbacks to one another, he did note that – unlike Eli – Sanchez had a tendency in the past to overreact to bad plays.
“You look at Eli, he has the ultimate poker face,” said Scott. “His happy dance, his sad face, his excited face is all the same. And I think that’s a strength because if defenses see that they’ve gotten to you, then it’s only going to pile on.”
Sanchez finally has emerged from a state of constant uncertainty and insecurity. And now he's taken more of a command of the huddle and also his teammates. His demeanor and confidence have changed so much that even defensive players have noticed Sanchez correcting his receivers on the field and telling them where he expects them to be.
And as a result, said Scott: “The ball’s coming out fast, he’s making quick decision and he’s on his mark.”