By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — It seems like the collective world on the outside of the high walls that surround Jet Nation is gearing up for a party.
At this massive gathering tribute will be paid, songs will be sung and there will be drinking and dancing long into the night.
The revelers plan to celebrate the fall of the Rex Ryan era once and for all, the collapse of the new-age Jets from the lofty perch so many have put them on since early 2009, when the culture of the franchise was changed from perennial underachievers and heart breakers to fairly reliable challengers just a piece or two away from becoming truly elite.
Needless to say, a lot of people are counting on the Jets continuing their downward spiral into their self-created abyss in 2012, in essence falling flat on their faces for all the world to see and say I told you so.
I, for one, just don’t see it. And trust me, if I thought otherwise you’d know it because I have and will continue to bring the thunder when it’s appropriate.
We’re talking about a team that without question took a step back last season. The ineptitude and dysfunctionality of years gone by came back with gusto, crushing the hopes and dreams of a fan base that really felt a corner had been turned. Where once there was a swagger and a sense of entitlement following two consecutive appearances in the precursor to the big game was replaced by shock and horror that left many people abandoning ship as the vessel took on more water than the pumps could dispel.
These fans didn’t stop rooting for the Jets; they just waved the white flag of surrender as reality set in and maybe didn’t try as hard as they had in the past when times were brighter. You didn’t have to be a football genius to know and accept the fact that the Jets were fatally flawed in 2011. But this notion that the disease that plagued the organization then would not be eradicated before we get to the here and now is foolhardy.
The Jets will be fine. Trust in that. Those who insist otherwise just haven’t been paying attention or are ill-equipped to look at the big picture, or, as I assume is the real reason, simply want this franchise to fail.
Last season’s mediocrity falls on no one but the Jets, themselves, on a front office that abandoned what had been working for a sexier approach, both philosophy- and personnel-wise. This much is indisputable: when Ryan took control this team changed its entire approach from a bravado standpoint, becoming less about sitting around and letting its weak product do the talking for a more in-your-face “we’ll show you” mantra. As a result, the Jets put themselves in a position where they had to win and win big or would be stoned from the village. That fear of failure manifested itself and took human form in 2011.
However, if you really stop and look around at what’s gone down this offseason you’ll see a humbled team that has dialed the rhetoric down several notches. Yet, the Jets remain a significant talking point, but not because of what they have done to better themselves. On the contrary, the sharks have been smelling blood for several months and they are now hell-bent on moving in for the kill, regardless of the fact that the Jets have, by and large, done exactly what they said they were going to do, as in swallow some pride, shut their mouths and work on fixing the many wrongs of what was a season that went badly awry.
So I ask you: how are the Jets, as currently constituted, worse than the team that finished one game out of the playoffs last season, a team that was 8-5? How is it that improvements at various positions and on the coaching staff are being overlooked or conveniently passed off as simply moves made for the sake of making moves? How is it possible that one right tackle’s struggles will without question continue to be the reason why this once-exceptional offensive line will never again be what it was, regardless of the fact that it is littered with Pro Bowlers? Why is it that the entire fortune of this club’s offensive potential for the 2012 season is being tied to the performance of a back-up quarterback?
In my opinion, those who don’t care for the Jets are simply piling on or have an agenda rooted in their own wants and desires, be it to cause chaos or improve their Twitter following. They are running with story lines to create commotion and rally the haters who may have a dislike but are on the fence when it comes to becoming more overt nuisances in the public PR smear campaign. They are running misdirection, trying to keep the focus off the revamping in an attempt to remind the world that the past will remain the present and the future, and that there is little the Jets can do to erase that which is preordained, according to the philosophy of those who simply want to see a team they don’t like ever get over the proverbial hump, or, in this case, become champions.
Of course it is true the Jets have many question marks, but is there really any denying the fact that as a result of the recent draft they are younger and faster on defense as a whole? Or that they appear to have plenty of pass rushing options, long a point of contention and furor among the fan base, under a new defensive line coach in Karl Dunbar, who is known for rotating in everyone and making damn sure his players won’t run out of gas in the fourth quarter in the process?
Why has the restructuring of the troublesome safety position been downplayed? LaRon Landry didn’t show up for early OTAs? This is not news. The Jets knew he was still recovering from Achilles’ issues, but at the time of the signing did not view him as a potential problem or as money ($4 million for one “prove it” year) poorly spent. Yeremiah Bell may be 34, but is there anything on his resume to suggest he’s not an able-bodied safety who is a vast upgrade over Eric Smith or wounded Jim Leonhard?
Why do a lot of people refuse to acknowledge that the Jets have the potential to be completely unpredictable and efficient on offense? Why is it that the hiring of Tony Sparano, a coach as respected as any across the NFL, a leader who took a nothing offense in Miami and made it good enough to keep the Dolphins competitive, is being overlooked?
Why is it that the failures of Mark Sanchez, a quarterback with all the requisite ability needed to be successful, are being assumed as too much to overcome, regardless of the fact that statistically he’s improved every season since coming into the league and last season was often left all alone on an island due to devastating injuries and failures on the offensive line and the highly questionable approach of the previous offensive coordinator? Then there are little things like why the Jets apparently don’t have a pass-catching running back when in reality they have a now-beefed up and chiseled Joe McKnight, a player who did it all in college, ready to pick up where LaDainian Tomlinson left off.
And then, of course, there’s the Tim Tebow factor, maybe the most overblown distraction through no fault of the player the Jets have ever seen, and, trust me, that’s saying a lot. Tebow is going to help the Jets in ways no one can imagine. I’ve stood by the assertion that Tebow is not liked because of who he is rather than what he is as a football player. If the latter was the only thing he was based on the majority of people would drool over the prospects of this basically raw talent, with a work ethic that is unrivaled, a solid citizen who will do nothing to embarrass this franchise, something that cannot be said for many that have come before him.
Yet, Tebow to many is the improperly placed domino. When he’s blown over by an ill-timed gust of wind the Jets will collapse with him. I just don’t get it. Let’s be real for a second: Tebow will not be the starting quarterback on this team unless the season blows up. And if that does happen, the Jets would be right to start him because it will mean once and for all that Sanchez has used up the last of his nine lives.
In the interim, Tebow will remain despised for all the gutless reasons he is despised. That is until he runs over a 265-pound linebacker on his way to the end zone. Then the real haters may be left with no recourse but to begrudgingly say we were wrong about this man. He is a football player, maybe the type of new era football player that will kick what was once deemed prototypical to the curb.
So, as you read more and more over the next few months about how the Jets are destined for 6-10 or worse, just know they will only sink that low if a series of things get all out of whack. No one player will determine this team’s fate, not even the starting quarterback. This defense is going to be better, more cerebral, better trained and likely more efficient. This offense will be a work in progress, but it will be based in the reality of what has made the Jets very good in the past. Sparano won’t ask Sanchez to be Peyton Manning, He’ll simply ask him to be Mark Sanchez, and the past suggests when this kid is commanded to play within himself the Jets, as a result, can put more than enough points on the board.
We haven’t seen one day of training camp and yet the assumptions are already set in stone as reality? What a joke.
And if the Jets are good and keep their mouths shut in the process what next will the menacing horde come up with? I’m waiting with baited breath for that nonsense.
The Jets have basically put the Super Bowl talk on hold. It’s time people stop assuming they haven’t and begin judging them based on the potential for wins and losses, the only truly fair way to assess any team.
And right now none of us have the prerequisites to throw down absolutes.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
There’s no need for predictions, but please share your thoughts on what your gut tells you about the Jets’ potential for 2012 …