FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Look who's at the head of the class for the New York Jets: Mark Sanchez.
The often-criticized starting quarterback has impressed Jets coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano with how well he has grasped New York's new offensive system this offseason.
"I would say he's probably worked and put in the most amount of work, which he should," Sparano said Thursday. "It's a credit to Mark that he has been able to put that kind of time in. It's really important to him. He's done a tremendous job."
Sanchez has had a somewhat tumultuous offseason that included anonymous teammates taking shots at him in a newspaper report, the team flirting with the idea of signing Peyton Manning and then trading for Tim Tebow — shortly after giving their starting quarterback a contract extension.
Ryan, Sparano, general manager Mike Tannenbaum and owner Woody Johnson have all made it clear that Sanchez is the starting quarterback, without question. Even if the backup is one of the most popular guys on the planet.
"You talk about the leadership and Sanchez, I think the best thing how Sanchez is leading is in the classroom," Ryan said. "Tony will fire out questions, and Sanchez has all the answers. I think that speaks volumes to his teammates. I see that over and over and over again."
Neither Sanchez nor Tebow were made available to the media after the team's latest session of organized team activities. Last week, both said they were making strides in picking up Sparano's system, which has more of an up-tempo feel than the one Brian Schottenheimer ran in six years with the Jets.
"Anytime you can practice at a high pace, you would hope that it creates an up-tempo practice," Sparano said. "I think the other thing is your players get used to practicing at a high pace, the game becomes just a shade slower, if that's possible. But that's something that we try to do here. Lastly, I think when you force them to practice fast, they don't have a lot of time to digest the information and not a lot of time to think about it at the line of scrimmage. It forces them to know (the play)."
Sparano said about 50-60 percent of the offensive system has been installed.
"I think Mark has done some really nice things right now," Sparano said. "Tim has had some really good days out there."
The players have praised the energy Sparano brings to the field, barking at players constantly throughout practices. His voice carries across the field, so everyone knows who just made a nice play — or is getting chewed out.