FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) – The president is on the New York Jets’ itinerary.
Rex Ryan boldly declared at his introductory news conference 19 months ago that the Jets would meet President Barack Obama in a few years. Well, someday means now for Ryan, whose team fell a win short of reaching the Super Bowl last season.
“Our goal has never changed,” the Jets’ brash coach said. “Everyone laughed at us last year when we said we were going to do this and that and we backed it up, with a huge exception. We failed at our goal and this year, we’re going to attack it. We’re going to go try and reach that goal, and we’re going to do it next year, too.”
Once one of the more tightlipped franchises in the league, the Jets have opened their doors to everyone with an appearance on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” and a coach who says whatever is on his mind.
“I think Rex’s attitude and enthusiasm trickles down,” said Jason Taylor, one of a handful of new players this season.
The Jets certainly are built like a team with its sights set on winning now. Despite having limited flexibility in free agency because of NFL rules, general manager Mike Tannenbaum kept the Jets in the headlines throughout the offseason.
He allowed a few popular players such as Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, Alan Faneca and Jay Feely to leave, while signing a pair of potential Hall of Famers in Taylor and LaDainian Tomlinson.
Tannenbaum also traded for two troubled but talented young players in Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie. They all are expected to play major roles for a team with a win-now mentality.
“It’s kind of weird,” said Tomlinson, who spent his first nine seasons with the Chargers. “I’m kind of like, ‘I can’t believe I’m here practicing with these guys after just playing them my last game in San Diego.’ But, it’s funny how things work out. I’ve always said, ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”’
Despite the excitement over all the new faces, one player currently not with the team could make a huge difference. All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis didn’t report with the team for training camp and was holding out in a bitter contract dispute.
Revis, who finished second in voting for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award, is scheduled to make $1 million in the fourth season of his six-year rookie deal. He wants to be the highest-paid player at the position, a distinction currently held by Oakland’s Nnamdi Asomugha.
“Once he gets here, he’ll be ready to go,” safety Jim Leonhard said. “We hope it’s sooner than later, but that’s the business side of the game.”
But will Revis return anytime soon?
Revis’ agents and the Jets agreed to negotiate behind closed doors after things started turning snippy through the media. If Revis’ holdout seeps into the regular season, it will be up to Cromartie and first-round pick Kyle Wilson to step up for a defense that ranked No. 1 overall last season.
“It’s about the unit,” Ryan said. “If you have the decal on the side of your helmet that says ‘New York Jets’ on it, you’re a special person and we can get it done.”
Quarterback Mark Sanchez’s development in his second season might be the most important story line this season, whether Revis shows or not. The new face of the franchise had some promising flashes as a rookie, particularly during the team’s surprising playoff run. As expected, though, there were a few ugly performances that cost the Jets some wins early.
Sanchez threw 12 touchdown passes, but also had 20 interceptions in the regular season. With so many veterans hoping for a run at a Super Bowl ring, the pressure’s on the young quarterback to be better – and smarter – this season.
“I think the best thing about it is watching him grow,” Tomlinson said. “You’re kind of involved in the day-to-day situations of watching a young guy grow and become an elite quarterback. Mark is very well on his way.”
A motivated and rejuvenated Tomlinson could play a major role in Sanchez taking that next step. The eighth-leading rusher in NFL history gives the Jets a pass-catching threat out of the backfield, where bruising second-year running back Shonn Greene will step in for the departed Jones.
The competition at left guard to replace Faneca will also be important as second-year offensive lineman Matt Slauson and second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse were about even through two preseason games.
After having the top-ranked rushing offense last season, the Jets appear poised to air things out a little more with the addition of Holmes. The former Super Bowl MVP with Pittsburgh will miss the first four games while serving a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. But he’ll help form a formidable receiving corps with Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller when he returns.
“Explosive is one word that comes to my mind,” Tomlinson said.
Just as long as it all translates to wins and a ring.
After all, the president will be waiting.
“In my crystal ball, I’m seeing a Super Bowl trophy,” Ryan said. “I could be wrong, but that’s what I see.”
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)