CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Mark Sanchez remains in a quarterback competition with Trevor Siemian. He has been unable to pull away, but is gaining traction after a strong preseason opener and consecutive solid practices this week.
Sanchez doesn't know where he stands in the race. But at age 29, he knows where he stands. If this isn't his last chance to win an NFL starting job, it is his best. He believes he can secure the spot.
"No doubt. I feel totally confident in my ability. My experience has really helped me," Sanchez told Denver7 in an exclusive interview on Wednesday. "I know my leadership ability is only getting better and better. And my experience in that leadership role is helping me in this competition. I think I am ready to go. I will be ready when my number is called."
Coach Gary Kubiak continues to keep an open mind. He hinted he might name a starter for the second preseason game on Thursday. But it would only be for this week, not necessarily for Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said he's looking for consistency from the quarterbacks. If the race is close, as Kubiak has insisted, then it stands to reason Siemian will run with the No. 1s on Saturday.
How would Sanchez interpret that?
"I think it would just be part of the competition. I don’t know how to react to that. I just have to go play. It doesn’t matter if it's play one or play 30, you have to get in and give it your best shot," Sanchez said. "You have to help the team, make the right decisions and move the team down field."
Sanchez took more second-team reps on Wednesday, by design, and looked sharp against the 49ers. He threw a long touchdown pass to receiver Cody Latimer. Sanchez didn't throw an interception -- none of the quarterbacks did -- as he works to eliminate mistakes from earlier in camp.
"It's about making the right decision time and time again," said Sanchez, who hasn't begun a season as the starter since 2012. "If you do make a mistake, then clean it up quickly. On a blitz if you get a certain look and throw the ball the wrong way, you have to have short-term memory and not let it bleed into the next play or the next set of downs."
The Broncos evaluate their quarterbacks on numerous tangibles from accuracy, timing and decision-making to footwork and pre-snap reads. The game manager term continues to linger at Dove Valley after last year's offense limped to the finish line, but Kubiak wants improvement. Sanchez identified two critical areas where he must excel.
"You have to be good in the red zone and you have to be good on third down. Coach Kubiak is a firm believer in that," said Sanchez who went 4-for-4 on third down against the Bears, including a 32-yard touchdown to receiver Demaryius Thomas. "Early in our installation, red zone and third down plays were in. A lot of teams I have been on, you might even wait a week. They are important to us. We need to experience them, and get comfortable calling them because they are our moneymakers."
Peyton Manning tied for an NFL-worst eight third-down interceptions last season. Brock Osweiler threw two. The Broncos ranked 25th in red zone points. There is room for statistical growth. Sanchez must find the right balance between taking chances and taking care of the ball. Kubiak has been working with him on making better decisions on extended plays.
"The longer the play gets, the smarter you have to get as a quarterback. That’s what he’s trying to hammer home," Sanchez said. "It’s one thing in practice to throw 30 yards down field in that situation, but in a game you have to be really careful," Sanchez explained. "You have to know who's chasing you, what’s the down and distance, am I holding it with one hand or two, whatever it is. He wants our IQ to just skyrocket as the play gets longer and longer."
When the Broncos acquired Sanchez in March, he couldn't believe it. His friends said they hadn't seen him this happy since the New York Jets drafted him. His first two seasons in the league were his most memorable, reaching back-to-back AFC Championship Games. He believes more moments remain. It begins with winning the competition.
"There’s a lot of opportunity here. And the sky is the limit at this position. But I have to keep the blinders on," Sanchez said. "What’s my coverage? What’s my footwork? Who’s my first narrow vision? What do I want to accomplish here? You can’t get too far ahead of things. I just need to keep it focused. And control what I can control."