FOX Sports Exclusive
Jets poised for Super Bowl season
FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
Training camps have just started but the New York Jets' mouths are in postseason form.
Rex Ryan is already taking shots at the archrival New England Patriots. Players are also once again embracing the Super Bowl-or-bust mantra espoused by their boisterous head coach.
Such talk has proven hot air the past two seasons with New York falling short in both AFC title games. But based on how the team is shaping up for the 2011 campaign, the Jets finally appear poised to back up their words.
"I really don't care what others outside our fan base and players think," Ryan told FOXSports.com after a Tuesday morning practice at Jets headquarters. "I'm around these guys and this is what our expectation is. We have one goal. That's it. Our goal for players is not to get to the Pro Bowl or the (AFC) championship game and lose — again. We want to get past that.
"We want to be the ones holding that (Lombardi) Trophy at the end. It doesn't mean we'll make it but we think we have that team. If you didn't think that way, why would you do it?"
Such braggadocio may very well be justified.
Although there were disappointments in the first week of free agency — notably star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha snubbing New York for Philadelphia and jack-of-all-trades running back Brad Smith leaving to Buffalo — general manager Mike Tannenbaum adroitly managed the salary cap to re-sign most of his team's own key free agents. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes and cornerback Antonio Cromartie headline that crop. Inside linebacker David Harris, who was designated the team's franchise player in February, signed a multiyear extension on Tuesday.
Tannenbaum said the appeal of playing for a straight-shooting coach like Ryan helped New York keep its group of core players intact despite the money being thrown around league-wide on personnel since the NFL lockout was lifted last week.
"The institutional goodwill we had with these guys wanting to play with Rex was our biggest advantage," Tannenbaum said. "It was frenetic but at the end of the day these guys all came back."
There wasn't enough cap room available for the Jets to keep everyone despite a slew of players like running back LaDainian Tomlinson and linebackers Bart Scott and Calvin Pace agreeing to restructured contracts. The Jets aren't going to re-sign wideout Braylon Edwards but believe they have found a capable replacement in Plaxico Burress, who is trying to restart his NFL career after spending the past two years in prison on weapons charges.
"Braylon is a really good player, but I think Plaxico over the course of the 16-game season will really help us in the red zone," Tannenbaum said. "He's a big, physical guy. We had Holmes, Cromartie and Edwards as three 'A' players. To replace them and come back with three 'A' players, I couldn't be happier. "
The on- and off-field maturation of quarterback Mark Sanchez also has the Jets in good cheer.
Now entering his third NFL season, Sanchez has grabbed the leadership reins tightly enough to earn designation as a team captain.
"In these first couple of years, I haven't been sure about what to say (or) when to say it," Sanchez told Jets media on Monday. "Now it's time to go with your instincts and just demand everybody's respect and best play on the field."
Sanchez showed marked statistical improvement in 2010 and has already notched four road playoff victories before his 25th birthday. But a more dynamic passing game — the Jets ranked 22nd in the NFL last season — could be the factor that gets New York into its first Super Bowl in 43 seasons.
"My improvement determines any kind of ceiling this team could have," Sanchez said. "We have all of the potential in the world. Now it's time for me to step up my game, up my completion percentage early in the game and cut back on the interceptions (13 in 2010)."
Sanchez has the luxury of knowing he doesn't have to press to achieve those goals. That's because he's backed by Ryan's trademark defense.
Tannenbaum laughed when saying he filled Ryan's request for "cornerbacks, cornerbacks, cornerbacks." The Jets re-signed Cromartie and added free-agent backup Donald Strickland to join Darrelle Revis — the best in the game at the position — and 2010 first-round pick Kyle Wilson. The secondary will be further bolstered at safety by the re-signing of Eric Smith and return of Jim Leonhard from a leg injury that landed him on injured reserve last December.
"We have all the talent we need," Leonhard said. "It just comes down to execution. When we've gotten into trouble in the past it's because we've gone outside the system and got guys freelancing a little bit. We feel like we have second-to-none schemes. If you just go out and execute your responsibilities, we'll have success."
New York's biggest success the past two years has come in January. But uneven play during the regular season has forced the club on the road as a playoff wild-card — a scenario Scott wants the 2011 Jets to avoid.
"I'm ready to see us come out and dominate from the start," Scott said. "If we play better during the regular season, we'll be able to host some of these (playoff) games and put pressure on our opponents to have to travel and play in our environment. Every little bit helps."
Added Leonhard: "Last year we were a little up-and-down. If we get more consistent, we feel like if we get into an AFC Championship game, we're not going to come out flat."
That 24-19 loss at Pittsburgh coming on the heels of a second-round upset of New England ended New York's yapping. The lesson in humility, though, clearly hasn't stuck.
"I know we're 0-0. We have a long way to go but there's no reason think we won't be there (in the Super Bowl)," Ryan said. "There's great continuity with our coaching staff and players. There's turnover every year but it wasn't as bad or dramatic as some people had thought.
"We have no excuses — none whatsoever. I know if it doesn't get done, it'll be, 'Oh, he's a loud-mouth,' and all that stuff. If that person doesn't believe, so be it. I can tell you one thing — nobody is ever going to change my mind. This is what I believe."
It's now on Ryan and the Jets to make the rest of the NFL believers through their actions rather than huffing and puffing.
"We've set the bar pretty high," Jets center Nick Mangold said. "But I think we can get the job done this year."
More Stories From Alex Marvez