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 â" 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 â" or is getting chewed out.
"Well, look, it's not about changing anything or doing anything like that," Sparano said. "This is my way. This is the way I do things. In our league, there's a lot of ways to do things. A lot of people have success doing it different ways. I've just been around different people. I've been around a lot of the same people, you know, and that's the way I've been raised in this business. So I go about it one way. What you see is what you get. That's what I do."
Sanchez has been, as expected, taking all the snaps with the first-team offense, and both Ryan and Sparano have praised the exceptional physical shape the quarterback is in this offseason.
Meanwhile, Sparano says he's not surprised by anything he has seen from Tebow. After all, he said, he coached Tebow in the Senior Bowl when the quarterback was coming out of the University of Florida.
"Seeing where he was then and seeing where he is now, they're two totally different places," Sparano said. "I mean fundamentally, you can see he's worked hard from a fundamentals standpoint. We all need to improve, we all need to continue to improve fundamentally with the new system, footwork-wise, getting all those things down. But he's making good progress."
Tebow might have had the play of the practice when he completed a 50-yard pass to second-round pick Stephen Hill for a touchdown.
"I think Tim has a nice touch on his deep ball," Ryan said, but added that both Tebow and Sanchez still have to work on their accuracy.
Tebow didn't throw any interceptions after tossing two last Thursday in the first OTA session open to the media, but he didn't have any other eye-popping moments on the field.
NOTES: S LaRon Landry still has not been at OTAs, but Ryan isn't concerned that he'll fall behind in picking up the defense. "He's got a playbook and all that kind of stuff," Ryan said. "Guys learn differently." Since OTAs are voluntary, the Jets haven't given a reason for Landry not attending, but the former Redskins star is recovering from an Achilles injury that cut short his season a year ago. ... Sparano, fired last season as Dolphins coach, on his former team participating in HBO's "Hard Knocks" this summer: "Look, I'm a New York Jet, OK? I'm not any of that other business right now."