Entering the 2014 season, Mark Sanchez had completed 55.1 percent of his 1,867 career pass attempts. He finished all four of his seasons with the New York Jets with completion percentages between 53 and 57 percent. Then, in 2015 with the Eagles, Sanchez's efficiency spiked to the tune of a 64.1 completion percentage, while his yards per attempt also jumped from a career 6.5 mark to 7.8 in 2015.
And, as Sanchez described following Thursday's Organized Team Activity, "that was with a crappy arm."
It was no surprise, then, that Sanchez chose to return to the Eagles as a free agent this offseason. With a year's worth of experience in Chip Kelly's offense and another year removed from the shoulder surgery that put him on the shelf for the 2013 season and affected his arm strength for the early part of 2014, Sanchez expects to be even better in 2015.
"First thing, physically, I feel so much better," Sanchez said. "The farther it gets away from surgery and all the reps I've had, all the rehab on through, it only can get better and better and stronger. So this is definitely the best I've ever felt. And then as far as the scheme, every rep, every time we sit down and watch film, every meeting, that can only help my growth as well.
"Were there other opportunities? Absolutely. Did they look potentially good, better, similar, maybe worse? Potentially, yeah, there was some stuff out there. But when I factored it all in, I just felt like this was the best spot for me. I enjoy playing for coach Kelly, I love this system, I love the tempo, I love the pace and, like I said, I'm coming off an injury and I threw the highest completion percentage of my career, so why try and change it now? Let's plug back in and see what happens. That's what I'm excited about."
Kelly, for one, has noticed an improved Sanchez on the field this spring.
"I think you can see it in how he's performing out there now," Kelly said. "He's also not learning an offense again. A lot of times not only are you trying to figure out how you're throwing the ball again because you're coming off a year long layoff in terms of throwing the football, but he is really comfortable in terms of the scheme."
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Sanchez, of course, will be pushing Sam Bradford for the starting quarterback job. With Bradford still working his way back to 100 percent health, Sanchez is the one working with the nominal first-team offense at this early stage of the offseason. But with Kelly assuring the media Thursday that there will be an "open competition" for the position, Sanchez knows what to expect.
"Coach will make that determination at some point," Sanchez said. We want everybody to be healthy. But that doesn't affect how I prepare or how I transition into this next season. All of us come into that quarterback room, walk in the huddle, you act like you're the starter. That's the only way I know how to play. As soon as you start thinking or counting reps or, 'I wonder if this guy's going to be healthy,' then you're already beat. There's no point in being out here. Yeah, everybody wants to be the starter and I'm no different."
Aside from Bradford, Sanchez's biggest hurdle in earning the top job may be avoiding turnovers. Despite his lofty completion percentage, Sanchez still threw 11 interceptions last season. More accurately, he threw an interception on 3.6 percent of his passes, right in line with his 3.7 percent career mark entering the year.
Sanchez said the offseason has helped him, and the rest of the team, in working to correct those mistakes.
"I think the best part about that offseason period is getting to the truth of all those turnovers," he said. "What was it? Was it a poor decision, a poor throw or a good defensive play? Did we screw up something else whether it was protection or route or depth or a catch here or there? All those things play into it. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter. It goes on my record and that's what you sign up for when you play the position, so that was important for me to see that. When you see some of those from last year, it's like, 'Man, we're so close. So close.' One throw, one catch, one block, one tackle, whatever it is, and, like I said, we could be talking about a whole different season here."
Among those many variables is a new-look wide receiver corps that no longer features Jeremy Maclin, who led the Eagles with 85 catches for 1,318 yards last season. But with returning players like Jordan Matthews and first-round pick Nelson Agholor in tow, Sanchez says the Eagles should be just fine at the position.
"You know, I think this is a heck of a receiver group," Sanchez said. "Obviously when you lose somebody as good as Maclin, everybody wants to know, 'OK, who's going to take his spot? Who's that next Maclin?' Nobody's the next Maclin. Maclin's his own guy and he's a great player and he'll go down in Eagles history as one of the best receivers here. But these new guys, whether it's Josh Huff, whether it's Riley Cooper, whether it's Miles (Austin), this Rasheed Bailey kid, all these guys can pick up and make up the slack and all that kind of stuff. It's going to be exciting to see who really takes over that role and breaks out in that position group. But right now they all look pretty solid."