Somewhere along the way, it seems Mark Sanchez's unwavering self-confidence took a hit.
Back in May, the fifth-year quarterback "absolutely" saw himself as the future of the Jets franchise. In June, he said his confidence level was "sky-high." But after Wednesday's practice, in which he went 3-for-10 with a touchdown and an interception (courtesy of Antonio Cromartie), Sanchez's assessment of his progress was far more tepid.
Asked if he feels ahead of rookie Geno Smith in the QB race, Sanchez said: "Um, I don't know. Ask the coaches."
Sanchez insisted he's still confident and believes he's "playing really well." But he couldn't discern if he's the top dog or the underdog in the competition.
"I don't know. It depends on who you ask," he said. "I'm not really worried about it. I feel good. I feel comfortable. Just keep pushing, keep competing and control what I can."
While Sanchez continues to explain how his fundamentals and footwork have improved under new quarterbacks coach David Lee, his accuracy and decision-making still leave much to be desired. That was evident Wednesday.
Sanchez, though, gave himself a rather surprisingly optimistic review. "At the end of the day, sure, you want your numbers to be high," he said. "But there's always specific circumstances that lead to whatever stats there are. And you don't want to make excuses, but you know exactly why certain things happen the way they do."
To be fair, Smith (6-for-9, two sacks) was far from perfect. Rex Ryan again stressed the importance of the rookie not holding on to the football too long. But the Jets coach again was quick to praise Smith's confidence, accuracy and poise. And, knowingly or not, Ryan also highlighted the stark contrast between Smith's noticeable zip.
"I think everybody gets enamored with a guy that can throw a 96-mile-per-hour fastball," Ryan said when asked about Smith, who also threw an interception (Isaiah Trufant) in 7-on-7 drills. "But Mark certainly has a good enough arm to play in this league.
" . . . Geno, it does pop off like, 'Wow, he can really throw it.' "
Perhaps that's why so many have flocked to training camp practices to see the intense QB competition firsthand. And Sanchez said it isn't just the Jets fans and media hanging on every one of his passes -- and mistakes.
"When you take a step back or you're sipping water and you just kind of give a glance around, it's like: 'Doesn't that guy work upstairs? What's he doing out here?' " Sanchez said of everyone wanting to see the QB battle up close.
For much of his Jets career, he's come to training camp knowing the starting job is his. But Smith's arrival has brought Sanchez's once-secure status into question. And Sanchez knows the battle for the starting job has piqued the interest of everyone in the organization.
"It's a lot like my rookie year," he said, referring to his training camp competition with former Jet Kellen Clemens in 2009. "Everybody from the front office and everyone who works upstairs that you rarely see is out there with their notepads . . . You see them [taking notes]. Every throw, every handoff.
"Everything's under scrutiny. There's a ton of pressure but that's the way you like it. That's why you play the position and it makes it fun."