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Jets' Sanchez braces for practice and Falcons

Mark Sanchez returned to practice for the first

Mark Sanchez returned to practice for the first time on Dec. 15, 2009 after injuring his knee against Buffalo 12 days earlier. Photo Credit: MCT Photo

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Mark Sanchez tried to play it coy initially, pretending as if he wasn't a human piñata and the guys weren't taking their swings at him with a verbal bamboo stick.

The rookie quarterback returned to the practice field Wednesday to test his rehabilitated right knee for the first time since spraining his PCL on Dec. 3, wearing braces on both knees for support and protection. Sanchez normally wears a brace on his left knee in part because of the dislocated kneecap he suffered in his junior season at USC.

When asked if any of his Jets teammates ribbed him a bit for wearing two braces, Sanchez said, "Never," before laughing. "I looked like Forrest Gump out there. They're giving me a hard time, but it's all right. It's all part of it. If I've got to wear roller blades, I'll wear roller blades. That's just the way it felt last week. I was just dying not being there. If it means I've got to wear two braces, then I'll wear two braces, whatever it takes. I really want to get on the field. I think the guys understand that."

From the sound of things, Sanchez indeed will be out there on the Meadowlands turf when the Jets host the banged-up Falcons on Sunday. Sanchez said he plans on playing and feels "confident" after going through practice without a hitch. He split the reps with Kellen Clemens and didn't report any swelling or pain in his knee.

However, Rex Ryan wants to see how Sanchez's knee feels this morning and will consult with team doctors before making a final determination. He said it will be strictly a medical decision, so barring any unforeseen setbacks overnight, Sanchez should play.

"You want to make sure there is no swelling or anything else and that he feels good, that he got through the night and everything else," Ryan said. "No surprises. There's people that get paid to give their opinions, their expert opinions."

Sanchez's teammates sure liked what they saw. "He was just out there like normal," right tackle Damien Woody said, "just out there doing his thing."

Sanchez couldn't even estimate how many hours of rehab he's put in during the last two weeks. He's essentially lived in the training room at the Jets' facility, and had to watch the first half of Sunday's win over Tampa Bay here because he was still getting treatment. He watched the second half at home and followed along by looking on his play sheet and trying to figure out the specific play the Jets were running.

He also attempted to get a handle on what defensive look the Buccaneers were lined up on a given play. Sitting out his first pro game put things in perspective. It left Sanchez appreciating the small things that come along with being an NFL quarterback.

"You have so much more time to think about stuff like that," Sanchez said. "Usually during the week, you're just going and you get caught up in the everyday hustle and bustle . . . When I have to do all that treatment and then I go in the locker room, nobody is there anymore because I'm there all night. I'm changing and showering and it's like, 'Man, I'm kind of on my own right now.' It's terrible.

"It's great to be back and hopefully it works out for this weekend."

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