A lot of kids dream of being an NFL star. Nobody dreams of being an NFL laughingstock, but that is what happens to some careers. You can be a talented player. You can be a former high draft pick. You can even have good seasons on your resume. But the NFL is all about now. What have you done for me lately?
Mark Sanchez was taken in the Top 10 by the Jets just a few years back. He led the Jets to consecutive AFC title games. Those are distant memories. Most people remember him for something completely different…his “butt fumble play” in 2012.
That seemed like rock bottom. Then Sanchez was sent into the fourth quarter of a 2013 preseason game and he suffered a season-ending injury. The fact the coaches put him into garbage time in a preseason game was the ultimate sign that Rex Ryan is clueless when it comes to handling QBs. Sanchez was projected to be the Jets starter at the time. Instead, the injury paved the way for Geno Smith to play and Sanchez to exit New York.
When the Eagles signed Sanchez, all the talk was about the butt fumble. No one wanted to hear about the AFC title games or the things Sanchez had done well for the Jets. Chip Kelly knew Sanchez from when he had recruited him. Kelly also had faced Sanchez in some Oregon/USC battles. Kelly felt the talent was still there.
With Ryan as head coach, the Jets were a defensive team. Offense was the red-headed stepchild, so to speak. Sanchez had 3 offensive coordinators in his 5 years with the Jets. Even worse, Brian Schottenheimer, Tony Sparano and Marty Mornhinweg could not be more different. Skill players were a mixed bag. When he did have talent, it was high maintenance players like Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress. Or in 2012…the Jets leading WR was Jeremy Kerley. Let’s just say James Thrash would have been a welcome addition to that offense.
Sanchez is now in a completely different situation. He is playing for an offensive guru in Chip Kelly. He has a veteran OC in Pat Shurmur who knows the NFL passing game. The QB coach is another veteran in Bill Musgrave. Both Shurmur and Musgrave are experts in the WCO, which is part of the Eagles passing attack. There is symmetry and cohesion on the offensive staff.
Sanchez has access to explosive playmakers. Even as the Eagles backup, he is working with guys like Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews. Just imagine how Sanchez must feel when he gets Shady, Mac, Coop, Celek, Sproles and the backups. That’s a buffet of playmakers.
Now that Sanchez has the right coaches, the right scheme and some talent to work with, you can see how good he can be. I was not a huge fan of his coming out of USC because I didn’t think he was the kind of player you built a team around. I do think Sanchez can be good in the right situation, which he has found in Philly.
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Nate Allen offered a lot of hope back in 2010. He had 3 INTs, 2 sacks, broke up 8 passes and had a FF. A playmaking Safety…imagine that. And as a rookie, no less. Unfortunately he got hurt late in the year and that was the beginning of trouble.
Allen returned to the field in 2011, but had issues with his knee. It didn’t help that he had a new scheme, DC and position coach. And very different responsibilities. The Wide 9 put a ton of pressure on DBs to be run supporters. Allen had one terrific game (vs BUF), but went downhill quickly. Knee soreness was an issue and his confidence disappeared over night. Put on the Pats game from that year and you’ll see Allen at his worst.
2012 meant a new position coach and some schematic adjustments. Then Juan Castillo got fired at midseason and the scheme changed again. Allen played poorly and was benched late in the year.
2013 brought in a new scheme, new DC and new position coach, but finally there was some real cohesion. The staff put the scheme together and everyone was on the same page with how to run it and how to teach it. The coaches focused on fundamentals. Allen was finally healthy and started to look better on the field. Allen started all 16 games. He was 3rd on the team in tackles. He was still too cautious at times. The tape showed him playing on his heels, something you don’t want to see.
This summer Allen got to experience something new…stability. He has all his coaches back. The scheme is the same. He’s healthy. Life is pretty darn good. The Eagles made things even better by signing FS Malcolm Jenkins. Finally, Allen has someone on the field that can help him. Jenkins is a good player with plenty of experience. He’s a natural leader and is pushing Allen to play better.
The Eagles have played 2 preseason games and Allen looks different. He is more confident. He is more aggressive. Allen will never be Dawk or Wes Hopkins, but he can be a quality starter. Allen was supposed to battle Earl Wolff for the SS job, but right now Allen has a virtual lock on the spot.
Allen isn’t a guy you build a secondary around, but he can be a good complementary player. He needs the right pieces around him and the right scheme. Allen finally seems to be in a good situation.
Both Allen and Sanchez are proof that circumstances do matter.