FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- On orders from Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez dusted off his old knee brace this week, and there's a chance he will wear it on his surgically repaired left knee for the remainder of the season -- for precautionary reasons.
On the sixth play of last Saturday night's game in Carolina, the New York Jets' quarterback narrowly avoided a potentially devastating blow to the knee from Panthers defensive tackle Derek Landri, who blew past inexperienced left guard Matt Slauson.
"I had him put the brace on after I saw that thing," Ryan said Tuesday. "It was close ... It was like, 'That's enough.' That's the play that got my attention. Absolutely."
Because of an old college injury, Sanchez played last season with a brace on his left knee. After the season, he underwent surgery to strengthen the patella tendon. His hope was to play this season, sans brace, but he sounded resigned to having it again.
"It's just a matter of getting used to it again," said Sanchez, adding, "It's the right thing to do."
Ryan said they will re-evaluate after Friday night's game against the Washington Redskins, but he added, "I feel much better about him just having that thing on."
It made for a light moment Monday in practice, when Sanchez stepped into the huddle. Slauson sheepishly recounted the conversation, which started when center Nick Mangold noticed the brace. According to Slauson, the exchange went something like this:
Mangold to Sanchez: "Oh, you're wearing the big brace again?"
Sanchez: "Yeah, it's because of the shot I took during the game."
They were able to laugh it off, but the close call underscores a key issue: After releasing perennial Pro Bowl left guard Alan Faneca, the Jets don't have an experienced option at the position.
Slauson has been working with the first unit since the start of camp, and he will start Friday night, but he still doesn't have the job locked up, according to Ryan. The coach said rookie Vladimir Ducasse still has a shot.
"[Slauson] has been ahead the whole way, but the kid is coming," Ryan said. "If we can eliminate the little mistakes [Ducasse] had in the game and make it a physical contest, I think he could close the gap even more. It's still a contest in my opinion."
In reality, Slauson probably has the job sewn up -- too late to turn back -- but Ryan probably couldn't bring himself to anoint him after seeing his franchise quarterback almost leveled.
"I saw Slauson get beat like a drum," said Ryan, alluding to the play that could've been a disaster. "He just got beat clean by an old-school pass-rush move where the guy lined up wide, gave him a little head fake, came off the ball and swam him."
Slauson felt bad about it, but the former sixth-round pick from Nebraska believes he's improving each week. But he understands that it's still an open competition.
"I expect it to be that way all season," he said. "Vlad will be nipping at my heels all year."
A year ago, the Jets had a veteran offensive line with rare continuity. Now they're trying to break in a relative novice, threatening the unit's chemistry. It's fair to wonder if the left-guard leak (if it remains a leak) gets into Sanchez's head.
"You have to trust your guys," Sanchez said. "You can't even think about it like that."