NEW YORK (AP) — No more bold Super Bowl predictions. No more empty promises.
This is the new toned-down, slimmed-down Rex Ryan. But the New York Jets coach is still plenty confident, and eager to get this season going. Having Tim Tebow in green and white isn’t the only reason.
“I think I’m looking forward to it more than any season in my life,” Ryan said. “I think part of that is we never reached my expectations and the country’s expectations of our football team. Maybe there’s some doubt about my coaching ability or whatever.
“I can’t wait to show people. That mentality has carried me my whole life.”
His biggest task will be erasing the bitterness of finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the first time in his three years as coach. Inconsistent play on the field and tension among some players off it — most notably Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes — helped derail the season.
“We will have a close football team,” Ryan insisted. “We’re not going to beat ourselves with some of the infighting or all that other stuff. That’s a thing of the past.”
Sanchez and Holmes say they’ve patched things up, Ryan is down more than 100 pounds since having lap-band surgery in 2010 and Tebowmania will kick into high gear when the NFL’s most popular backup quarterback arrives with the rest of the team in Cortland, N.Y., on Thursday to open training camp.
“I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest with you,” Tebow said during minicamp last month. “But it has been fun. It has been a great time.”
Now comes the real test: a summer of scrutiny during which all eyes will be on Tebow’s every move — as well as Sanchez’s. The Jets have made it clear that Sanchez is, and will be, the starter with Tebow serving as the backup who runs the wildcat-style offense, possibly carries the ball at times and maybe even plays on special teams.
That hasn’t stopped all the speculation, though, and there has been lots of it. From the moment the Jets acquired Tebow from the Denver Broncos in March, fans and media have debated over whether the two quarterbacks will be able to coexist, especially when the backup’s popularity extends far beyond the football field. Sanchez and Tebow have said all the right things and smiled at the mere mention of a possible quarterback controversy.
“Honestly, I try not to let it bother me one way or another,” Tebow said of the media attention. “Really not too much I can do to control it and I just try to handle it the best I can.”
While the Jets have been mostly mum on exactly how they plan to use Tebow, that should become more clear as new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano starts digging into the playbook during training camp. Ryan and Sparano have talked about being committed to a run-first offense, something in which Sanchez was effective during his first two seasons. The Jets and former coordinator Brian Schottenheimer flip-flopped on their offensive approach early last season and that contributed to Sanchez and the rest of the offense getting off to a rough start.
“I just know that I turned the ball over too much,” said Sanchez, who threw 18 interceptions and lost eight fumbles. “As many good things as you do, turning the ball over doesn’t negate them, but it really does hurt the team. So, the most important thing moving forward is taking care of the football, making good decisions. If we cut down on a couple of those interceptions, we might be in the playoffs. That’s the way I look at it and just keep getting better.”
The Jets hope Tebow’s presence will not only push Sanchez to reach the level of success the franchise expects from him, but might also take some pressure off him on offense. Teams will know New York will use Tebow. But when? And, how?
“Those two guys are good teammates,” Ryan said. “They’re good for each other and good for our football team in general. They’re both very competitive guys. That’s great. At the end of the day, we want 53 great competitors and good teammates. I think we’ll have that this year.”
And, the Jets expect to have All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis with them when training camp starts. A person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press last week that Revis intends to report on time rather than hold out in a contract dispute for the second time in three summers.
That surely has Ryan pumped up, particularly because he thinks this defense could be the best he has had in New York. The Jets drafted Quinton Coples in the first round out of North Carolina, adding an athletic pass rusher to a deep defensive line. They also signed former Pro Bowl safeties LaRon Landry, who was hoping to be ready after an Achilles injury ended his season early with Washington last year, and Yeremiah Bell to bolster their secondary.
Ryan also made an effort to be more involved in meetings and planning on both sides of the ball, giving more of his input on not just defense but offense and even special teams.
“For me to be at my best, I need to do something I’m decent at,” Ryan said, “which is coach.”
And that has Ryan excited about getting back to work and leaving last season far behind.
“I think the biggest wake-up call we had as a football team was the fact that we never made the playoffs,” he said. “That was a huge wake-up call for us. You can’t just assume you’re going to make it. That starts with me.”
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