Rex Ryan has Jets team he wants
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- This is the team Rex Ryan wants, and he can't think of anyone better to coach it than Rex Ryan.
With Mark Sanchez at quarterback, Tim Tebow in various roles, Tony Sparano as offensive coordinator, and a defense four years in the making, Ryan has a high comfort level with the 2012 version of the New York Jets.
Ryan was gushing about the current makeup of the Jets after a spirited, high-tempo first practice Friday at training camp.
''I have a blueprint for our team,'' Ryan said. ''I have everything in place right now, no question.''
That includes his self-confidence, manifested when he told dozens of reporters after the workout that ''I look at myself as the best defensive coordinator in football, that's the way I've always believed. That's saying something because (Pittsburgh's) Dick LeBeau is pretty darn good. (New England's) Bill Belichick is pretty good. But that's the way I've always believed.
''Any competitor likes to be challenged or bet against, so bet against me,'' added Ryan, whose first two Jets teams went to the AFC championship game. His third squad fell apart last season, losing its final three games to miss the playoffs amid discord. ''This is not the first time people did not believe in me. I believe in myself and the men I coach.
''If it was a spelling bee, I'd bet against me. If it's anything else - a fight, coaching football - I'm betting on me.''
He's also betting on former Dolphins coach Tony Sparano to straighten out an offense that stagnated in 2011 - and one that could be plagued by a quarterback controversy if Sanchez stumbles with the wildly popular Tebow waiting behind him. Sanchez was particularly sharp in the opening practice, while Tebow also had some highlight moments despite fumbling a snap from center.
Adding Sparano's intensity - he could be heard barking orders or cursing on virtually every play Friday - could make for a volatile mix. Ryan doesn't see it that way at all, and his opinion was bolstered by the amount of work the Jets accomplished. Ryan estimated the team doubled its number of plays in some segments of the practice, and he credited Sparano for that.
''Tony is a big part of that,'' Ryan said of his ''blueprint.''
''This is what we brought him in for and why. He sees the things through not just as an offensive coordinator, but as a team. When you sit in that big chair ...''
But when you sit in that head coaching chair, you also must deal with the problems. The Jets' failures down the stretch a year ago ate at Ryan throughout the offseason. He also came to recognize that some of his outlandish proclamations, particularly predicting big success for his team, were counterproductive.
While he isn't about to emulate the tight-lipped Bill Belichick, part of Ryan's plan for the now - and the future - includes modifying his verbiage.
''The arrows were not just coming on me, they were coming on my players,'' he said. ''I never wanted to put added pressure on my team. (The media) asked me, 'Didn't you figure that out?' No.''
Something Ryan, Sparano and the rest of the Jets cast must figure out is the quarterbacking dynamic. During the first practice, which was not open to the public, Tebow had as much a role on special teams as he did behind center running the offense.
When fans are allowed to watch, beginning Saturday, an entirely new atmosphere will result. Tebowmania will be in full swing.
How the Jets handle that could be as telling as how well Sanchez and No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes have patched up their minifeud, or whether that defense Ryan lauds can mount a more effective pass rush.
So Ryan's biggest challenge might not be matching wits with Belichick in the AFC East. It could come from within.
At this early juncture, though, there was plenty for everyone to like:
-Sanchez throwing some perfect spirals, displaying some chemistry with Holmes and Chaz Schilens, and lots of conviction in the pocket;
-Second-round pick Stephen Hill making a spectacular touchdown catch over All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis;
-The defense looking fast and fit;
-At 250 pounds, Tebow hustling downfield to cover punts, or staying in to block for the punter: ''You've got to think twice about sending everyone all out ... I don't know if you want to rush the punter the way you might other teams,'' Ryan said.
It's all part of Ryan's blueprint.