By Chris Emma—
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) – It’s not easy what Bears backup quarterback Mark Sanchez is doing, despite what his paychecks may offer.
Any competitor in this game wants to have the ball in his hands and the chance to lead his team victories. Sanchez has been inactive for each of his team’s nine games this season, serving as the Bears’ third-string quarterback. When the game is on the line, he looks to make an impact with his knowledge and voice.
For Sanchez, there’s nothing to complain about. The joy he brings to Halas Hall each day is authentic.
“This is still the best job in the world,” Sanchez said Thursday. “I love playing ball, and I love being around other players, studying and staying after it mentally. You see how the league evolves each year, you see a bunch of different coordinators, a bunch of different defenses. A lot of things overlap, a lot of things carry over, and then a lot of new wrinkles and things kind of get phased in and out as the league continues to evolve. So that’s been fun for me to see.”
For the 31-year-old Sanchez, this season has been much the same as 2016 in Dallas, with him taking a role behind the scenes by mentoring a young quarterback. It was Rookie of the Year Dak Prescott a year ago, and now it’s Mitchell Trubisky, the second overall pick in the draft in April.
Sanchez was the fifth overall selection in the 2009 draft, tabbed as the Jets’ next franchise quarterback. He led them to the AFC Championship his first two seasons but struggled from there, failing to meet the hopes held in New York.
Sanchez started a combined 10 games in 2014 and 2015 with the Eagles but then fell into the backup role. He joined the Cowboys in 2016, initially as their third-string quarterback before becoming the backup to Prescott when starter Tony Romo suffered a season-ending injury. While the Cowboys transitioned from Romo to Prescott, they leaned on Sanchez as a mentor for their rookie.
In his ninth NFL season, Sanchez has seen it all in this league — the triumphs of great victories, the heartaches of difficult defeats. He has been a top pick carrying the weight of great expectations and the veteran backup ready in case of emergency.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace believed Sanchez could be a key figure in the Bears’ quarterback room. In March, Pace had just signed 27-year-old Mike Glennon and was making plans to draft a quarterback a month later when he signed Sanchez. The Bears then named Trubisky their backup quarterback to open the season, pushing Sanchez to the third team. Trubisky became the starter after four games, with Glennon working as the backup.
Sanchez has brought a wealth of experience to help Trubisky grow as a young quarterback. He recalled 2009 in New York, running several stops for fast food to feed the offensive line before shipping out for the AFC Championship. There are little details to being a good teammate and countless more to being a prepared NFL quarterback.
When the Bears’ quarterbacks gather for their meetings, Sanchez is another coach in the room. He picks the proper spots to step in with his words, but the delicate balance has earned admiration.
“He’s a great mentor,” Trubisky said recently. “He’s really smart. He knows the game. He helps me a lot situationally – how to watch film, how to study and he just provides that juice that I need. ‘Can never be down, everyone’s looking at me’ — he continues to remind me that.”
Added Sanchez of the praise: “That’s not why you do it. You do it because you genuinely care about somebody or a team, a cause or whatever you’re involved in.”
Sanchez has to still prepare himself and absorb the same thorough details a starter does. The Bears turned to third-string quarterback Matt Barkley a year ago after losing Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer, but offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains doesn’t need to remind Sanchez of what his role entails.
The positive spirit with which Sanchez operates has been widely heralded around the NFL by former teammates and coaches. While fans will point to bloopers like the infamous “Butt Fumble,” those who have suited up with him appreciate the steady professional.
Sanchez hopes to play for several more seasons and find his way to the field again. Whether that opportunity will re-emerge remains to be seen. Perhaps there will be a day down the road where this experience leads to coaching.
“I still got a long time before that,” Sanchez said. “I haven’t gotten a lot of mileage the last couple years, so I got plenty of time to play. I still feel good.
“We’ll see. Maybe.”