IN JANUARY 2009, Mark Sanchez held a news conference to announce he was leaving USC a year early. He shared the dais with his then-coach, Pete Carroll.
Carroll made it clear they did not share the same feelings. A blogger for the LA Times wrote: "Carroll was visibly unhappy, refusing to sit down for part of the press conference and saying that he disagreed with the decision based on a number of factors. 'We don't see this decision the same,' he said. 'Mark is going against the grain on this decision. He knows that.' "
Sanchez and Carroll have been through a lot since that day. They've faced each other in the NFL once, in 2012 at Seattle, during what would turn out to be Sanchez's final season quarterbacking the New York Jets. Carroll's Seahawks won, 28-7.
Sunday they meet again at Lincoln Financial Field, Carroll now a coach with a Super Bowl ring, Sanchez the guy who crashed and burned in New York but now has a chance to revive his career as a starter with the Eagles, or as a free agent this winter. How Sanchez fares against the NFL's No. 1 defense might have something to say about those chances.
"He's great," Sanchez said yesterday, when asked about Carroll. "He texted me during preseason - you're doing awesome, so happy to see you back, having fun - that means the world to me, because that's somebody I really respect. I had so much fun playing for him. It'll be good to see him again . . . He's a really good coach and a good friend."
Sanchez, drafted fifth overall in 2009, seemed ready enough for the NFL his first two seasons, as Rex Ryan's defense propelled the Jets to the AFC title game twice. But eventually it seemed that maybe Carroll knew something, that another year would have given Sanchez, at the very least, more maturity to deal with adversity as the Jets fell apart around him.
Of course, another year might just have netted Sanchez a throwing shoulder injury and a tumble down the draft board listings, like his USC successor and current Eagles backup, Matt Barkley.
By 2012 with the Jets, Sanchez was dealing with the Tim Tebow circus, playing for a team that seemingly valued tabloid back pages and talk radio buzz more than it valued winning. He completed nine of 22 passes for 124 yards, no touchdowns, an interception and a 40.7 passer rating against Seattle. Sanchez also lost a fumble.
"We turned the ball over in the red zone one time, and we just weren't very efficient," he recalled. "We ran the ball OK; we were kind of in the game for a little bit, and then it just got away from us, because we didn't take care of the football."
Asked what he liked about playing for Carroll, Sanchez said: "Similar to coach [Chip] Kelly, the atmosphere . . . You work your butt off all week, and then, when you get to game day, relax and have the time of your life. That's what it feels like here, that's what it felt like at USC, and at times in New York it felt like that, too."
Carroll was asked about Sanchez at the NFL meetings in Orlando last March, before Sanchez signed with the Eagles. Carroll said he thought Sanchez was ready for "the next opportunity" and added that he saw Sanchez as a starter. Perhaps for that reason, Seattle, with Russell Wilson at QB, did not pursue Sanchez, who signed a bare-bones, 1-year, $2.25 million deal here to back up Nick Foles, now sidelined with a broken collarbone.
Pat Shurmur said right guard Andrew Gardner, a solid part of the run game success the past 2 weeks, "has an ability, where he can stick on blocks. He doesn't splash off blocks, so when he gets to the second level, he can latch onto blocks pretty well . . . I think he's got pretty decent instincts as far as pass protection and passing off twists . . . I think he'll only get better as he continues to work with Lane [Johnson] and [Jason] Kelce."
Angry 'Beast Mode'?
Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said of Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch: "Nobody runs the ball harder. He comes downhill every play. He runs angry . . . He looks for contact . . . He gets the hard yards, and he gets exactly what's there every down."
Running back Chris Polk and tight end/special teamer Trey Burton did not practice yesterday, and the Eagles were not obligated to send out an injury report so early in the week, but both players said they would be fine for Sunday. Burton, who suffered a hamstring injury against Dallas, said he expects to practice today . . . The Eagles might have been looking to bolster their inside linebacking by bringing back Jake Knott when his waived-injured settlement expires, Dec. 9, but if they do, they'll have to find a spot on the 53-man roster, since Knott joined the Dolphins' practice squad yesterday . . . Bill Davis, asked what stands out about Brandon Graham, said: "His power. When you're talking about going forward, Brandon has a lot of power . . . low center of gravity, where he really gets a push. When he goes to his bull rush, people move backwards, no matter how big they are. And Brandon's got a nice counter move . . . got real heavy hands, so setting the edge in the run game and his bull pass rush are probably his trademarks, and then he's gotten so much better at going backwards, knowing where he fits in coverage."