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August 21, 2010

 

Brunell happy in role as teacher, backup for Sanchez

MarkBob Ellis/staff photographer
Jets quarterback Mark Brunell warms up prior to pratice on Friday at SUNY Cortland.

By TOM VARTANIAN
Staff Writer

No disrespect to another well-known 40-year-old quarterback who just decided to return for another NFL season, but there is a veteran with the New York Jets who plans to spend more time tutoring an up-and-coming star then securing his own place in the record books.
Amid loads of fanfare, Bret Favre returned to the Minnesota Vikings for this season after some prodding by teammates this past week.
More quietly this off-season, veteran quarterback Mark Brunell — who turns 40 on Sept. 17 — left the 2009 Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints’ back-up role to take on a similar role as a Jets’ mentor to second-year signal-caller Mark Sanchez. The 2010 Super Bowl is in the sights of Sanchez after reaching the AFC title game last season.
“It’s a tough camp, which is good,” Brunell said before breaking camp at SUNY Cortland this week. “It’s a good locker room. I really like the guys, I’m still getting to know them not having been here very long.
“There’s great camaraderie,” he continued. “The guys have good attitudes. They are here to work, to get better. It seems like everybody is on the same page and in pursuit of one goal, to win a championship. I’m proud to be a part of this.”
At the University of Washington, Brunell led the Huskies to the Rose Bowl as PAC-10 champions two of his three years. He was the starter as a sophomore and senior after an injury-filled junior season. After that second win, in the 1993 Rose Bowl, Brunell prepared for graduation that spring.
Brunell was a fifth-round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers in 1993. After two season, playing just two games, he packed his bags for Jacksonville and was there through the 2003 season.
It was the four years at Washington with the past two season being back-up and mentor to Drew Brees at New Orleans. He was a three-time Pro Bowl selection during his Jacksonville years and had two trips to the AFC Championship game.
Brunell has completed 2,753 passes over 17 seasons for 31,928 yards with 182 touchdowns and 107 interceptions. He has rushed the ball 513 times for 2,421 yards and 15 touchdowns, but only four carries (all in 2009) over the past three seasons.
In 2006, Brunell broke the NFL record for consecutive completions in a single game with 22 against the Houston Texans on September 24. He also set a Washingotn Redskins single-game completion percentage record at 88.9 percent, breaking the franchise record of 87.5 that Sammy Baugh held for 66 years. The NFL record now stands at 24 consecutive completions set by Donovan McNabb as a Philadelphia Eagle on a couple of occasions.
McNabb now prepares for his first year as a Redskin.
Are there any highlights in his career that stand out for Brunell?
“There have been some games and some seasons with other teams that I have been a part of that have been pretty special,” Brunell recalled. “Last year was my only Super Bowl, but I don’t know if I can only name one, two or three. There have been quite a few. A lot of it is just the opportunity to play for some great coaches and play with some great players. there are a lot of good memories.”
With all the highs and lows throughout his career, and now being a veteran, is camp any different now than those first few years in the league?
“Yeah, there is a difference in being a starter and being in a supporting role,” Brunell stated. “To be in my 18th season and still be on the squad, and an opportunity to be on this squad, is great. I’m trying to make this football team because I think it has a chance to be something special. We’ll see how it goes.”
Last year on a team that won the Super Bowl, Brunell is now on a team with talk about winning one. What is his assessment of this Jets team, can they make that next step and go to the Super Bowl?
“We have just as good a shot as anybody else,” he said. “We have talent. We’ve got the X’s and O’s down schematically offensively and defensively. I think we are ready. It’s just a matter of how much we come together, how healthy we stay, how we need to play our best football at the end of the season.
“A lot of things have to happen to win a championship,” Brunell added. “This team is certainly capable of doing it. That’s not a prediction. Hopefully we will be right there. We’ll see what happens. It’s going to take a lot of work.”
About the work with Mark Sanchez, Brunell knows how to use the cadences to screw up defenses and make them jump off-sides. What are his thoughts on Sanchez’s progression?
“He is doing really well,” Brunell said. “I’ve been told how much he has grown since last year. He has a year under his belt. He has some really great moments and some learning experiences last year. I think he is going to have a good year. He’s having a very good camp. So far, so good.”
Sanchez actually began picking Brunell’s brain the day the players checked into the Glass Tower dormitory.
“We talked some football, we talked life,” Sanchez said about the trip that had Brunell riding with him on the three-hour trip from New Jersey to Cortland. “He’s been around a lot longer than me so he has a lot more experience that way. He was great. It sounds like he has a great family, I can’t wait to meet them.
“He’s so supportive. Even in your first day when you throw bad balls, he says, ‘C’mon, you’re better than that.’ He’s great to have around so far. Maybe he’ll get on my nerves sooner or later…no, I’m just kidding,” he added, chuckling.
There is one running joke with Sanchez being 23 years old and Brunell’s daughter, Caitlin,starting her freshman year in college.
“He’s not meeting my daughter, she already thinks he’s cute,” Brunell said during an interview that aired on Hard Knocks Wednesday night. “I like the kid, but I don’t like him that much.”
“It’s been an ongoing joke,” Sanchez said Thursday. “Whenever he shows pictures of his kids, he’ll show everybody else his daughter, but he won’t show me. It’s an ongoing joke, but I’m too busy for that (laughs).”
One day he was actually the holder on some field goal attempts, what roles does Brunell see himself playing?
“You know if I’m asked to do something, I’m going to do it,” Brunell stated. “I’d play free safety, which they probably won’t ask me to do. If they ask me to hold, I’ll be more than happy to do it. They just mentioned. It was with the twos. It’s just as a back-up, but it went well.”
While Brunell saw limited reps against the Giants, as Clemens and third-year man Kevin O’Connell battled for the number three spot, Coach Ryan expect Brunell to see more time in tonight’s exhibition game at Carolina.

To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard