THE LAST TIME Mark Sanchez took the field in a preseason game, he saw the life crushed from his 2013 season and his New York Jets career.
Sanchez, 27, begins his comeback tomorrow night in Chicago. And though he has no idea how much he will play behind starting quarterback Nick Foles, who is scheduled to get about 10 to 15 snaps along with the rest of the first-teamers, at least this time Sanchez knows he's scheduled to play.
Last Aug. 24, as a Jet, Sanchez watched rookie Geno Smith quarterback most of a preseason game against the Giants. Late in the proceedings, Matt Simms warmed up to take over. Instead, Jets coach Rex Ryan put Sanchez in the game behind a makeshift offensive line, even though other Jets starters were sitting out the entire game, and Sanchez took a hit from Marvin Austin that tore the labrum in his right shoulder. He spent 7 weeks trying to get the shoulder right before undergoing season-ending surgery. The Jets decided to tie their future to Smith, and after the season ended, Sanchez ended up essentially swapping backup roles with Michael Vick.
"I'm just excited about the chance to play again," Sanchez said after a walk-through yesterday. "I feel good. If I'm healthy, like I am, there's really nothing to worry about. I approach it like any other season. Sure, anything can happen, but I'm expecting some good stuff."
He said competing with Matt Barkley for a backup job is not a problem, even though he has started each of the 62 NFL regular-season games he has played in, plus all six playoff contests.
"You're always competing - against yourself, against the defense, against the other quarterbacks. That's just the atmosphere that's been cultivated here, and we like that," Sanchez said. "It keeps it fun, it keeps it fresh. It keeps it exciting."
Ryan's 2012 and '13 training camps were circuslike, with Tim Tebow mania dominating 2012 and the Sanchez-Smith drama dominating last year.
"It was just a different experience. A lot of media attention . . . offensive coordinatorwise, we went through three in the last 3 years. It was just a little different," Sanchez said. "But this has been great. It's been a good experience . . . I like the flow of practice, I like the pace."
Ryan told reporters in New York that Sanchez was the first person to reach out to him this week after it was reported that Ryan's son, Seth, had broken a collarbone making a diving catch at Clemson, where Seth walked on as a wide receiver. The Ryan-Sanchez relationship has been a complex one, with the coach intimating recently that he put Sanchez back in that game last year because he wanted to get another look at him before deciding to keep him in the starting role, ahead of Smith.
"I'm still very close with a lot of players and coaches" in New York, Sanchez said.
Sanchez said he thought he might be more nervous, approaching his first NFL game in a uniform other than that of the Jets, who drafted him fifth overall in 2009.
"I've done it before. I've played before. I've started games. I've had a lot of experience in this league," he said. "There's nothing really too crazy that I haven't seen, whether it's an injury, whether it's a playoff game, whether it's getting your butt kicked in a Monday night game, it's all happened. I've seen it all."
Another veteran making his first appearance in an Eagles uniform tomorrow night will be former Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, the key free-agency acquisition.
"I'm looking forward to flying around, knocking some of the dust off," Jenkins, 26, said. "Jelling with the new defense . . . I'm excited to see some of our young guys get a chance to play, get a lot of snaps, get a lot of exposure."
Speaking of snaps, it will be interesting to see how many Barkley gets, if he really is competing with Sanchez for the backup role. Barkley was asked how he thinks he has progressed since last preseason.
"I think just speed with the offense - getting the plays called, getting the ball snapped quicker," he said. "Also, once the ball's snapped, just being within the progressions and knowing where the ball should be, in a timely fashion, because Chip wants the ball to get into a playmaker's hands as quickly as possible, and in the right guy's hands. There's five guys available on nearly every play, so just to make use of all those guys, I think I've done a better job of that."
Linebacker Connor Barwin isn't new here, and he isn't really competing for his job or trying to prove anything. But Barwin said he, too, is excited to play the Bears tomorrow.
"It's great, man; this is the start. Friday's the real start. It's the first time you have the opportunity to put your identity out there," he said. "I think this year, the team's different, the defense is going to be different. I think Friday . . . is the first time we're going to show what we're about this year."