“…Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests, and putting off unpleasant decisions—that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. For everywhere we look, there is work to be done…“
Sports and politics don’t mix. The two topics belong nowhere near one another. Ever.
Yet, as the New York Jets prepare to formally announce Rex Ryan as their new head coach on Jan. 21, some of the words spoken by this country’s 44th President on the day of his Inauguration are too fitting for the task at hand.
Following Rex Ryan to the podium will be a reputation—a strong name and identity for the New York Jets to build upon going into the 2009 season.
The architect of one of the NFL’s most perennially dangerous defenses will embark on the most arduous task of his career, and fans are expecting change.
Many fans feared the prospect of bringing in an inexperienced, first-time head coach. But that was when the options were young, “flavor of the month” coordinators who had seen minimal success.
The Jets front office met everyone half-way and brought in a man who is still young, but whose track record and results are undeniable.
New York was a team on the cusp of greatness in 2008. Glory was attainable until complacency and panic combined for a catastrophic disaster—leaving everyone close to the team helpless and confused at the end of Week 17.
And much like Barack Obama, the hiring of Rex Ryan offers a glimmer of hope for Jets’ fans and the team’s future.
Tough Decisions to Make
The one thing dwelling in the forefront of everyone’s mind is the future of Brett Favre. While his legacy is one everyone honors too much to ever disrespect, it must be Ryan’s place to insist upon a future without the gunslinger.
His $13 million salary in 2009 is strong enough to hold New York captive while he mulls over his future.
Certainly a renegotiation can take place. If a return to the Jets is in Favre’s future, an agreement to reduce his cap number and piece together a new, one-year contract laden with performance-based incentives is possible.
But it’s not favorable.
For Ryan to make the New York Jets his team, he must look to do so without the quarterback who doesn’t belong. If none of New York’s options are suitable for Ryan, he must feel encouraged to seek out the quarterback who is.
Will the Cleveland Browns look to keep Derek Anderson as an insurance policy when it’s clear Brady Quinn has been groomed and anointed as the future of the franchise?
Will Byron Leftwich be a viable option after the Pittsburgh Steelers complete their Super Bowl run against the Arizona Cardinals?
Is Donovan McNabb’s future with the Philadelphia Eagles set in stone?
Perhaps the Jets’ quarterback of the future is already on the roster. But is it safe to stand pat when every other aspect of the offense remains built to be an immediate contender?
Defensive Brilliance Must Become Offensively Sound
The affectionately touted “Mad Scientist” of the Ravens defense must be able to concoct an effective offensive formula.
Despite the quarterback woes, there are offensive issues that must be addressed. And if Brian Schottenheimer remains with the Jets as the offensive coordinator, the origins of the Jets’ difficulties should become clear immediately.
As Eric Mangini was shown the door, reports surfaced regarding how he stifled Schottenheimer’s play-calling, and maintained too much control over the general game plans.
But if Schottenheimer remains and Leon Washington remains underutilized, the truth will present itself immediately.
More importantly, Ryan will need to find a way to secure a legitimate primary wide receiver.
While both Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery are tough and possess excellent hands, neither is a game-changing receiver who can stretch the field, or take over a game.
The New York Jets are a team built to run. But much like the Baltimore Ravens, the threat of the deep ball must be an integral element in the arsenal.
A loud stamp must be made offensively that will resonate and echo throughout the locker rooms of the NFL.
Dusting Off the Defense
The New York Jets defense is a mirror image of the Baltimore Ravens’ unit—a cloudy and dusty mirror with some scratches. But the talent is there, except they were improperly utilized.
An emotional leader like Ray Lewis doesn’t exist in New York…or maybe he does and was stifled by Mangini’s conservative approach to an aggressive sport.
Whatever the case may be, the materials are in place for Ryan to find similar success in New York.
The defensive backfield boasts Pro Bowl CB Darrelle Revis, but lacks a suitable complement on the opposite side of the field. Dwight Lowery has shown potential, and it will be up to Ryan to cultivate it.
Jets’ defensive captain and star safety Kerry Rhodes knows he can replicate Ed Reed in New York, if given the opportunity.
“If he holds to form and lets me do the things I can, I’ll be able to make just as many plays as [Ed Reed] does,” Rhodes said. “I’m a guy like [Reed]) that likes to make plays. So if (Ryan) keeps that freedom, I’ll do that what I do.”
Linebacker David Harris has the motor to be a dominant force on the inside of the defense, and outside linebackers Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas will succeed if played to their actual strengths.
The most exciting prospect for Ryan has to be 2008 sixth-overall draft pick Vernon Gholston. A physical freak regarded as a project presents Ryan witone of his more daunting tasks as the new coach.
If he can’t justify Gholston’s enormous rookie contract, then it’s safe to say he no longer has a place in the NFL.
But anyone who watched a Jets’ game in 2008 witnessed the NFL’s personification of a speed bump.
It’s going to be Ryan’s job to show Jets’ fans change.
“All this we can do. And all this we will do.”