Jets want Sanchez to just run, baby

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- If his pass protection breaks down Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, Mark Sanchez has a green light from Rex Ryan:

Just run, baby.

As he continues to mature as an NFL quarterback, Sanchez is being allowed to do more things. One of them is the freedom to call audibles. Another: His coaches have encouraged him to take off and run with the ball.

Sanchez did just that last week, rushing for a career-high 29 yards in the New York Jets' 32-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. It could've been more, but a 15-yard scramble was nullified by a holding penalty on right tackle Wayne Hunter.

On his best day, Sanchez never will be confused with Michael Vick, but the running threat adds another dimension to the offense -- which could use a jump-start after two games.

Ryan believes the scrambling stretches the defense, and he liked the way Sanchez handled himself against the Jaguars.

But there's one proviso from Ryan: Be careful. His quarterback, who suffered a minor bruise on his throwing elbow last week, has absorbed some big hits.

"When you take off with the ball, he's responsible to protect himself, knowing when to slide and when to get out of bounds," Ryan said Wednesday. "Mark is not going to take the unnecessary hit."

Actually, that's not true. On one scramble against the Jaguars, Sanchez slowed down as he reached the sideline, giving the defender an unexpected free shot at him with no penalty.

That was a no-no.

Sanchez has come a long way since his rookie year, 2009, when the coaches didn't want him running because he didn't know how to slide. In an effort to help him, Ryan invited Yankees manager Joe Girardi to the Jets' facility to give a sliding lesson. A few days later, facing the Buffalo Bills, Sanchez failed to slide and suffered a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for a week.

So much for the personal tutor idea.

"It's taken some time, but right now I feel really comfortable with the way Mark is," Ryan said. "He understands the pro game, where you slide. If you're in any heat at all, you slide or run out of bounds."

Of course, that's not guaranteed protection. On one slide against the Jaguars, Sanchez was victimized by a helmet-to-helmet shot by linebacker Daryl Smith, who was penalized.

Sanchez acknowledged that he took some unnecessary hits in the first two games, but he took the blame, saying he held the ball too long.

"As competitive as I am, I want to get the best out of a play and make sure we use its full potential, even when things break down," he said. "Sometimes you just have to say 'uncle' and avoid the hit. … [There were] some hits that I don't need to take."

The Jets' pass protection has been inconsistent, and now they face the prospect of breaking in a new center, undrafted rookie Colin Baxter, slated to replace Nick Mangold (ankle). Things could get chaotic in the Black Hole, but Sanchez's scrambling could be a factor against the Raiders' man-to-man coverage.

In man-to-man, the defenders' backs are turned away from the quarterback. If Sanchez smells an opportunity, he could take off.

After two games, Sanchez has nearly half as many rushing yards as Shonn Greene, the Jets' feature back. That's not a good thing, but it's not half-bad.