FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- From all indications, Mark Sanchez has embraced Tim Tebow as a teammate, saying all the right things about the New York Jets' unusual quarterback dynamic. But Sanchez initially was floored by the Tebow trade, Santonio Holmes revealed Wednesday.
"I think since Day 1, it was a focus that kind of rattled him a little," the veteran wide receiver said. "I use that word only to say that, 'Wow, how did this happen?' Those were words that came out of his mouth."
Holmes said Sanchez shared that sentiment in a conversation they had in late March, the day the Jets stunned the league by acquiring Tebow. That Sanchez confided in Holmes is ironic, considering they barely spoke to each other during the final 12 weeks last season -- a strained relationship that has been repaired, according to both players.
On Thursday, Rex Ryan was asked if he felt Sanchez was "rattled" by the trade. He said no, and proceeded to praise Sanchez for the way he prepared for the season.
"His motivation is much more than having Tim here," Ryan said. "This is a competitor, No. 1. He wants to be great. I think he's making strides to be that quarterback that we want here."
How Sanchez reacts to Holmes' disclosure remains to be seen. Sanchez wasn't available for comment; he addressed the media about an hour earlier. Since the trade, he has guarded his personal feelings, sticking mostly to the whatever's-best-for-the-team company line.
Actually, Holmes made the comment in the context of a compliment, praising Sanchez for the way he has handled Tebow Mania. Perhaps the most stunning aspect of the story is that Holmes, of all people, gave Sanchez a pep talk on that fateful day.
"I basically said to him, 'This is (your) team. You're the starting quarterback. Tebow is here to help us win games,'" said Holmes, claiming he was repeating what coach Rex Ryan had told him about the trade.
"Those were the exact words I gave to Mark, to give him a sense of security ..."
The Jets never cease to produce soap-opera storylines. Four days before the season opener against the Buffalo Bills, the Sanchez-Tebow drama and the Sanchez-Holmes saga were raging.
"I'm going to ride with him until the end," said Holmes, claiming he and Sanchez are cool.
Sanchez is under tremendous pressure as he prepares for his fourth season as the Jets' starter. On Wednesday, he talked about demanding accountability from his offensive teammates, an indication he has grown as a leader, but the Tebow factor keeps coming back at him.
A week ago, owner Woody Johnson said on national TV, "I think you can never have too much Tebow" -- a comment that could be perceived as a slight toward Sanchez.
"He's selling seats," Sanchez said sarcastically, smiling. "Tim obviously helps us, he really does. He can run, he can throw, he can do it all. So, hopefully, we'll give teams their fair share of Tebow and see what they can do."
Asked if he read anything into Johnson's comment, Sanchez said, "No, he's excited about him."
Ryan has said Tebow could play as many as 20 snaps in the Wildcat, depending on the flow of the game and the opponent. Otherwise, the Jets have been tight-lipped about their Wildcat plans. They didn't show it in the preseason, but they used it for several plays Wednesday in a closed practice, according to sources.
There probably will be times when Sanchez and Tebow are on the field together, and there probably will be times when Sanchez leaves the game for the Wildcat. Tebow said he has no idea how much it'll be used this week.
"I think it will be a Coach Ryan-, Coach (Tony) Sparano-feel thing," he said.
Sanchez said he has "to play the cards that I'm dealt." He and Holmes were a losing pair last season. In fact, Sanchez connected on only 50.5 percent of his attempts to Holmes, the lowest quarterback-receiver mark in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Their relationship was so strained that it took several private meetings and conversations to patch up things. Since then, Holmes has raved about Sanchez's maturity.
"He's more focused this season," Holmes said. "He's excited in replacing himself from what he did last year."
Ryan, too, went heavy with praise, saying Sanchez has improved his game in all areas.
"As a rookie, he was looked at as a weakness on our football team," the coach said, referring to 2009. "I said, 'There's going to be a day when he's looked at as a strength, and not a weakness.' I think that day is right now."