Mark Sanchez noticed something on the faces of WR Jerricho Cotchery, S Jim Leonhard and LB Bart Scott as he made his way throughout Northern Jersey's Crystal Springs Resort on a golf court.

It was the first off day the Jets had after their initial two days of Organized Team Activities, but Sanchez thinks that gleam in their eye wasn't because they were happy to be hitting a few golf balls rather than at The Hangar in the midst of practice.

"They look like they are excited. They care about the guys on the team," Sanchez said this afternoon. "They are excited about the season. And as high as everybody’s expectations are, I think it’s good. I think the guys feel that inside, not just from the critics, the fans. They want it bad. We all do and you can kind of feel it out there. It’s really competitive. So it’s good."

Those competitive juices and spirit are partly what led to Sanchez's return to the practice field earlier this week as the Jets kicked off their OTAs. After his Feb. 17 surgery to strengthen the patella ligament in his left knee, Sanchez has maintained his goal of participating in OTAs and the June minicamp.

He took the next step toward a full recovery on Monday, when he hit the field for the first time even though it was in a limited capacity. He hasn't found himself in any team drills yet, but he's taken part in 7-on-7s, walkthroughs and soft toss drills this week.

“It feels really good,” said Sanchez, who later ventured to the White House with D’Brickashaw Ferguson last night to attend a State Dinner with Mexico president Felipe Calderón and his wife. “I think I'm doing more than anybody thought I would do. I'd like to be doing more, trying to sneak in some reps here and there and getting yanked off the field a little bit. But that’s what it’s all about. Feeling good and not pushing it too hard.”

"I’m not 100 percent, so I don’t expect to jump right in and complete every pass," he said. "But I’m doing all right. So I’m good."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"I’ll always have the mentality of, ‘Yeah, I’m fine. I’ll go out there.’ And they’ll always want to be cautious. So we’ll find the happy medium. It’s just good to get back in the huddle and even in the walkthrough. It just feels good saying the calls again, going through this first couple of days of install. I feel so much more comfortable. Last year, I was just scrambling trying to figure everything out. And now it’s just one more time going through it and one season under your belt, and you just kind of settle in."

Sanchez, however, isn't quite sure when he'll be able to fully settle in behind center. He's still not running full speed yet. He has done some cutting, though not purposely.

The staff, as he mentioned above, wants to play it safe so they haven't told him how much they plan on letting him do over the next month.

"They want to make sure it’s strong enough to handle a team situation where a guy comes free or something happens, you have to move," Sanchez said. "But in 7-on-7, it’s pretty scripted – maybe not the routes and the coverages and stuff, but your drop. You are not moving all around. You are not booting, you are not pulling up and stopping on a dime. So until they are ready for me to do that -- hopefully by minicamp. But if not, then I’ll just try to get as many reps as possible until then."

That, he believes, will help him get past the next true hurdle.

"There’s a mental side to it too," he said. "You have been off your leg for so long. I’ve been favoring my right leg for so long because this thing was in a brace, and you don’t use it as much that when I get out there, it’s about trusting it and trusting my rehab."

He certainly trusts his arm, though, and he's not holding back on his throwing, either. That's because he needs to fire rockets in order to sneak them past CBs Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.

“I mean, I’ve got to throw it at our defense," Sanchez said. "These guys are good now, Cromartie and Revis. It’s almost not even fair, it’s not cool. It’s good for us though. It’s great practice for our receivers. It’s great practice for me. Our interior guys are doing well, too, so it’s good for us.”

Nobody, though, is as giddy as Sanchize.

"I don’t know if anybody thought I was going to be doing any of this," he said. "They probably figured for the first few weeks that I’d sit around and maybe give the play calls in or something like that to stay involved, but just kind of stay on the sideline. So I’m happy I’m doing something. It just feels good to get back in the swing."