By Kristian Dyer
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Let him boast.
It’s that simple for New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, who has faced criticism in recent days for what is perceived to be a return to his old ways, when Super Bowl guarantees flowed freely and he was portrayed as a clown.
But this isn’t that Rex — or those Jets — even though the national-media narrative would lead you to believe otherwise.
What Rex has done the past couple of weeks is loosen up a bit. He’s begun to show some of that swagger of old — and why shouldn’t he? Last season, Ryan should have won NFL Coach of the Year for taking a team that was supposed to have the record of an expansion club and bringing them to 8-8. He was pegged to be the first head coach on the unemployment line, yet he closed out the season at 3-1 and earned –- rather, he won –- himself a contract extension.
So, based off of last year, he has every right to feel his team has turned a corner. Sprinkle in some free-agency additions on both sides of the ball and 12 new draft picks coming in, and the Jets won’t be surprising anyone this year if they do well.
Expectations are higher. So is the quality of the team. Rex has every right to take the muzzle off this year.
It doesn’t mean that he should be spewing nonsense and garbled expectations. To date he hasn’t done that. Instead, he’s showing confidence in his team and letting them buy into that confidence. It’s a fine line for sure, but an important one.
The national media, of course, will use Rex’s words as easy bait to mock and ridicule the Jets, a message that has been spun every which way by pundits who have never stepped foot anywhere near training camp. It’s easy to pick on the Jets and, truthfully, this team hasn’t always helped change that narrative.
But these Jets aren’t those Jets. And these Jets — here and now — defied the consensus opinion about them last preseason that they weren’t very good. Now Ryan has a different task, and that’s getting his team to buy into the idea of the playoffs being very real and very tangible.
It might be a tougher task than getting last year’s group to overachieve. And Rex realizes that his role as head cheerleader is important for the team’s moral and emotional psyche.
In years past, he went too far with his bluster. It backfired. He used the podium as a pulpit to preach the health-and-wealth gospel to his team, always raining down sunshine and happiness rather than the cold reality of their sometimes-bad play. He raised expectations high, often too high, and his rosters struggled to reach that standard. Rex was toned down last year, in part due to a new general manager in John Idzik and in part due to a humbling 6-10 record from 2012.
But he needs to talk big again because his team needs to believe that they can be better than average. Last year, a .500 record was worthy of a Gatorade bath for their head coach. In 2014, they should be a playoff team — or at the very least a winning team. And it isn’t enough to just develop, they need to start dreaming.
So consider this: when Rex gives soundbites that make the headline writers roar with laughter, that wasn’t his intended audience. Instead, he’s speaking not to the men and women with recorders and cameras, but instead to the players in his locker room. His audience isn’t sitting at home on their sofas, but rather seated on stools in Cortland, N.Y., taking off helmets and pads following a practice.
A season ago, the Jets weren’t supposed to be so good; this year it would be a disappointment if they’re not better. Rex knows this, he perceives that this team can take that next step. But he also knows that this team doesn’t believe it about themselves yet.
The Jets haven’t had a winning record since 2010, posting a 22-26 mark since that season. The core of this team hasn’t sniffed the playoffs during that three-year stretch, and despite last year’s gains, their confidence could use some work. So when Rex says of heightened expectations, “We’re not running from it. We’re running into it,” he has every right to do so.
He also knows that hope — and promise, and belief — have been in short supply around here.
When Calvin Pace talks about this unit being the top defense in the league or Dee Milliner sees himself becoming a top cornerback, well, Rex will let it go. He does so because he wants that from his team, that sense of confidence to permeate all 53 players who make his final roster.
So have at it, Rex. Continue to talk big and with some of that bravado of old.
Your team is listening and beginning to believe.
Kristian R. Dyer is the Jets’ beat reporter for Metro New York and a contributor to Yahoo! Sports and WFAN. He can be followed on Twitter @.
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