HE CAN PLAY QB TOO! New Jets Head Coach plays QB during a drill at the Jets' first minicamp team practice. (JetsInsider.com Photo)
As Rex Ryan stood before a throng of cameras last January and eagerly awaited his introduction as the Jets' new head coach, the defensive guru knew the position would come with some challenges. Today Ryan joined his players for the start of the Jets' voluntary minicamp and Ryan was already faced with one challenge.
"All my life I've been an assistant coach and now my first day as a head coach I had no idea where to stand [on the field]," Ryan said half-jokingly with reporters today.
Ryan huddled with the defensive lineman to begin the session, seemingly jumping to a place of familiarity from his tenure as the Ravens' defensive coordinator. However, the Jets' new head coach soon took charge and ran a session that was full of emotion.
"The one thing I told them, the only negative thing I saw out there is we had fun, but we need to have more fun out there," Ryan said. "Guys flying around out there and just enjoying the competition with each other. I told those guys I expect that this afternoon."
The free-spirited attitude is a far-cry from the boot camp mentality which former head coach Eric Mangini ordered for the previous three seasons. Linebacker Bart Scott, who played under Ryan with the Ravens for the previous eight years, labeled the team's attitude as "swagger-licious."
While Ryan's free-spirited practices surely bring a refreshing attitude to the Jets, Scott mentioned that the Jets' new defensive system will bring a level of excitement to several players.
"It's going to be an exciting gameplan. It's not going to be something that's game-planned specifically for one player. Guys will get an opportunity to shine," Scott said. "In this defense everyone is going to get the opportunity to shine and it's going to allow everybody to be successful when other teams just can't key on one person."
Scott shined in that opportunity today as he batted away two screen passes intended for running back Leon Washington, after which the free-spirited attitude carried on between the Jets' two stars.
"There ain't no linebacker that can cover me," Washington said with a smile following practice. "He's got an interesting technique and he's a smart player. He got me today and that's the first time that happened, so that's a good sign for other guys."
While Scott got the better of the Jets' offense on multiple snaps, Ryan mentioned that the team's familiarity with offensive coordinator Brian Scottenheimer allowed for a fine-tuned practice.
"The first day you don't normally see multiple shifts and motion and empty backfield. That was great to see. We're way ahead of where most teams are with the offensive system," Ryan said.
Kellen Clemens took snaps with the first-team while Brett Ratliff primarily took snaps with the backups today, however running back Thomas Jones was not present. Jones is believed to be seeking an extension after leading the AFC in rushing last year, but the Jets have not displayed any inclination to budge. While Jones is certainly making a statement by not showing up to the workouts, Ryan did mention that the minicamp is voluntary. Second-year quarterback Erik Ainge also did not show, for what Ryan cited as "personal reasons." Ainge certainly is not making a strong case to move up the depth charts, yet Ryan mentioned that he is "confident" Ainge will return to the team.
Ryan Confident in Jets' Offense
As the Jets restructured wide receiver Laveranues Coles' contract in Feburary, voiding his $6 million payday in exchange for his ticket to free agency, adding a reciever to complement Jerricho Cotchery seemingly became a priority. Cotchery emerged as quarterback Brett Favre's go-to guy during the future Hall of Famer's farewell in New York, but the Jets' downfield threats fizzled as Favre's passes withered in the swirling December winds. After a 34-13 win over the previously undefeated Titans carried the Jets into the season's final month with an 8-3 record, the Jets averaged just 16 points over the next five weeks. Instead of heading home to prepare for the franchise's first playoff appearance since 2006, players soon packed their bags for another long offseason.
Ryan outlined his offensive philosophy just minutes after being introduced as the Jets' new head coach in January, stating that he envisions fielding an "all-weather" offense based on a power run attack. In pairing the offensive scheme with a ball-hawking defense, Ryan has essentially carried over the same blueprint that has lifted the Ravens to a .568 winning percentage over the last ten seasons. Ryan has already built a more athletic defense by inking Scott and safety Jim Leonhard and trading for two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard, but the offense remains without a downfield threat to draw double-coverage away from Cotchery.
The Patriots will welcome back All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady from offseason knee surgery and the Bills added star wide receiver Terrell Owens, though Ryan is not concerned with matching offensive firepower with the Jets' divisional opponents.
"We've got great players coming back as well," Ryan said. "We're worried about our team. We don't care about anyone else's team. We have a starting point where we're at now and we know where we're going."
Chansi Stuckey bounced back from a season-ending knee injury suffered in 2007 and recorded 32 receptions last year, however Stuckey's lack of size (6-0, 185 lbs) and blazing speed could have him suited for as the slot receiver. Stuckey grabbed the slot position last season from Brad Smith, who had just 12 catches last year and has yet to prove he can be a full-time receiver in the league. Ryan mentioned today that Smith can be an every-down receiver in the league, however he noted that Smith needs to "step up" this offseason to gain that opportunity.
David Clowney burst into the picture after a breakout preseason, but a shoulder injury limited him to just two games (one catch, 26 yards). Ryan noted that he was "impressed" with Clowney during today's practice and explained that his speed should open up underneath routes for the offense.
Feely Gets His Kicks
Jay Feely nailed of his six field goal attempts. Feely was successful from 38, 42, 44 and 45 yards, while he was wide right from 43 and 41 yards.
Ryan Talks Training Camp
With the season rapidly approaching, the Jets are still narrowing down their list of possible locations for training camp. While the team moved into their $75 million facility in Florham Park, N.J. last September, Ryan remains keen on holding his first training camp as Jetsí head coach elsewhere. Cortland, N.Y. and Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. are believed to be the favored destinations for this summer's camp.
"It has nothing to do with our facilities or getting out of Florham Park; I love it here, these facilities are better than anybody's in the league, but it's about getting away," Ryan said. "Getting away from all the comfort of this place, of these surrounding areas where homes are and all that, and putting them in a camp situation where all they got is each other."
Simply put, Ryan believes that getting away will help build team chemistry
Defensive end Shaun Ellis (minor knee operation), tight end Dustin Keller (flu-like symptoms) and right guard Brandon Moore (sports hernia surgery) all sat out of today's practice. Sione Pouha replaced Ellis with the first-team, while Wayne Hunter slid in on the offensive line to replace Moore. Defensive end Kareem Brown worked at tight end today but dropped multiple passes early in the practice.