FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Mark Sanchez will be a game-time decision Sunday, Jets coach Rex Ryan said.
The quarterback has a sore shoulder and was limited, throwing only lightly Thursday during practice.
"I think I underestimated where he was with that injury," Ryan said.
"This one could be more of a game-time type decision than I thought it would be."
Sanchez was on the field Thursday morning for Jets practice, but he didn't look comfortable. The quarterback, who has a cartilage tear in his throwing arm according to a source, made a soft toss here or there, but nothing with any power behind it. A few times, he held his arm awkwardly.
Technically, shoulder cartilage can be damaged, but not torn, according to Nicholas DiNubile, a sports orthopedic surgeon based in Philadelphia. He described the cartilage as a cushion to the joint, adding that it can incur "pot holes" and "divots."
It would be a high-stakes game for the veteran quarterback's first start with the Jets.
"Everyone knows the situation, we're close to potentially getting in the playoffs," Brunell said. "You think about that game, and in that game you think about one play at a time."
Several players addressed the notion that a potential quarterback switch so late in the season could put more pressure on the running game. Fullback Tony Richardson said that in the cold weather, ground and pound is the strategy anyway, so Brunell wouldn't affect the strategy that dramatically.
"He's a gamer and he can play and obviously still has a lot of zip on the ball," Richardson said. "He's a very smart guy and knows the offense like the back of his hand so if he had to go in I think we'd be fine."
LaDainian Tomlinson said Sanchez didn't look too hampered in Thursday's practice, even though Brunell was been getting more reps.
"Obviously Sanchez is our leader, the guy that we count on, but in that situation you've got to go with the guy that's healthy," Tomlinson said. "If he's a game-time decision, then it means that [Brunell] has got to be ready to play. I'm sure he'll step up just fine and allow us to keep it rolling."
Ryan scaled back the certainty that Sanchez would start from 99 percent to 80 percent. Sanchez was limited after practice Wednesday and had his weekly news conference afterward.
"I'll be ready to go for Sunday," Sanchez said. "I felt good in practice. Felt like I could have done more and they're just holding me back to be smart. [We'll] take it from there, but if we were playing today, I'd play."
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said he expects Sanchez to play, but there would be minimal adjustment needed if Brunell starts.
"There's really not much that we would adjust or change," Schottenheimer said. "The biggest issue is probably the fact that he's left-handed, there'd be a few things here or there you might want to flip over and run the other way. For the most part you don't change too much, the volume might be cut back just a little bit but we wouldn't really adjust too much what we do."
Schottenheimer said Sanchez, originally injured during one of his runs in the Pittsburgh game, got better as practice went on. He said there was an 18-yard pass on a curl route that had a good amount of zip on it, and Sanchez had the majority of reps.
"He looked good today," Schottenheimer said.
Sanchez said unequivocally Wednesday that he would play Sunday, but the Jets have changed the team's injury policy so that players are not able to make that call on their own. Given a worsening of cornerback Darrelle Revis' hamstring earlier in the year when he made the call to play, Ryan and the training staff will evaluate each player.
As for reports that Sanchez has a cartilage tear, Ryan said the most technical terms that he's heard is "sore shoulder."
"He still got to improve before we're going to be comfortable with him going out there as the starting quarterback," Ryan said. "... Now, do we think he will? We do."
Jane McManus is a reporter and columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini contributed to this report.