By Chris Emma—
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) – There’s a great difference between the Mark Sanchez fans know and the one who arrived at Bears training camp this week eager for his new opportunity.
Many simply see Sanchez as the fifth overall draft pick in 2009 who burnt out in the New York spotlight. He led the Jets to their most recent playoff appearances with AFC Championship game appearances in his first two seasons, then unraveled as a starter and became better known for “The Butt Fumble.” The fast rise and sudden fall of Sanchez has been well-documented.
For the many blunders of Sanchez’s career, there’s a reason why he remains in the league more than eight years after being drafted. It’s why the Bears were so eager to bring him into their roster in March.
Sanchez has been widely regarded as a terrific teammate ever since his first season. Last year in Dallas, he pushed rookie quarterback Dak Prescott to make him better and eased the potentially awkward transition from Tony Romo.
Now, Sanchez is the Bears’ backup and the veteran guidance to starter Mike Glennon and rookie Mitchell Trubisky. The hierarchy for the quarterback room is clear. They must now bring out the best in each other.
That’s the goal of Sanchez.
“It’s a young team and the emphasis is on veterans to help guys and help push guys,” Sanchez said Thursday. “Even if that means from a No. 2 role, to help push Mike with everything I see. Just like I had the conversation with Dak last year, I said, ‘Hey, dude. I’ll tell you everything I know; I’ll push you as hard as I can. But I’ve got to say it, if at any point, you want me to turn it off, I can do that. I’ll shut up and I won’t say a word. But if I’m going to tell you, I’m going to tell you. If it’s body language, footwork, whatever.’ It’s the same relationship I have with Mike. I’m pushing him hard, helping him compete.
“I’ll push Mike (Glennon), get ready to play myself and then make sure he’s ready go to win. It’s been exciting working him. This guy, he can really play, and I don’t think people have had a fair look at him over his career. I think he’s a special player.”
Glennon appreciates that mindset from Sanchez.
“Mark’s been great from the moment that he got here,” Glennon said. “He’s been already a big help to me. Talk about a guy that’s kind of seen it all in the NFL — the good, the bad, everything in between. I know I’m very glad that he’s here.”
Glennon was signed by the Bears to a three-year, $45-million deal, of which $18.5 million is guaranteed. He gets the shot to lead the Bears in 2017, but there are no guarantees beyond that. After all, the team didn’t draft Trubisky to be a backup.
Sanchez can relate to Trubisky’s position. Back in 2009, he was drafted by the Jets to be their quarterback of the future. Adjusting to that position requires guidance. Sanchez had the help of Mark Brunell, Kellen Clemens and Kevin O’Connell during his rookie season. They would go join Brunell’s family for pizza every Tuesday night. The relationship was instrumental for Sanchez.
The 30-year-old Sanchez has prolonged his career by becoming a Brunell to young teammates. Glennon is 27 and re-acclimating himself as an NFL starting quarterback, while Trubisky was picked second overall to be the Bears’ future at quarterback.
“The best compliment you can give a rookie is not having to tell him to shut up,” Sanchez said of Trubisky. “Just keep your head down and work, and that has really been his mentality. That’s huge. That’s not easy. Especially not coming from where he’s come from and the status you build as a college player, and then the team trades up and drafts you. All of those things — you start to feel a little bit of that.
“I remember flying to divisional games, playoff games, championship games, and two hours before the plane takes off, I’m going to like three different places — Popeye’s Chicken. Quizno’s. Wherever (for the veterans) – as the starter. And I was like, ‘Geez. This is crazy.’ And there’s Brunell and Kellen Clemens saying ‘Hey, dude. Just keep your mouth shut. Do it or it’ll be worse.’ It’s just the way it is. (Trubisky has) done a great job. He has worked hard, doesn’t say much, and he doesn’t need to. Just keep working, keep learning, keep playing hard.”
It remains to be seen when Trubisky will be buying his veteran teammates some Monical’s Pizza in training camp, but Sanchez will be ever present to make sure there are no complaints. Such is life for a rookie in this league. Behind every young player’s growth is an influential veteran willing to offer direction.
The Bears have made major investments at the quarterback position with Glennon and Trubisky. They hope to have surrounded each with a tremendous support system for growth. It’s critical to the franchise’s new direction.
Sanchez is much more than the Bears’ backup quarterback.