An 0-4 preseason record with a first-string offense that never reached the end zone doesn’t seem like a source for optimism.
Rex Ryan is optimistic.
”I really like this team,” the New York Jets coach said Friday. ”I don’t know if we are as strong in this one area or that area, or whatever, specials teams, whatever it is. But overall in my opinion, I think this has a chance to be the best team that I’ve had since I’ve been a coach here.”
That would be impressive considering Ryan’s first two clubs in 2009 and 2010 made the playoffs as a wild card, then advanced to the AFC championship game.
While many observers see the Jets struggling to match last year’s 8-8 record, Ryan sees the glass as full. Perhaps overflowing.
”I think we understand complementary football,” Ryan said. ”Sometimes your offense is going to be rolling, sometimes you’re going to ask your defense, that old hockey term, to have to stand on their head. Certain challenges that teams present out there, I think we understand that.”
The biggest challenge has been finding the end zone. The Jets were outscored 88-31 in exhibition games, the only touchdown engineered by third-string quarterback Greg McElroy. New York was especially inept inside the 20-yard line.
A new offense the team likes to call ”ground and pound” is being installed by Tony Sparano, hired as coordinator after Miami fired him as head coach last year. It has yet to take root, and some wonder if the talent is there to pull off a run-oriented attack.
Shonn Greene comes off a 1,054 yard season, but his backups are Joe McKnight, best known as a kick returner — he led the NFL with 1,073 yards, an impressive 31.6 average despite a rule change that moved kickoff up to the 35-yard line — and Bilal Powell. The line, even with star center Nick Mangold, was pedestrian in 2011 and has had a revolving door at right tackle.
Other than Santonio Holmes, there is no proven wide receiver, and Holmes has had trouble in the past getting along with teammates. Dustin Keller is a solid pass-catching tight end who is underutilized and tweaked his hamstring in the preseason.
Then there’s a potential circus at quarterback where Mark Sanchez is the starter and the world’s most popular second-stringer, Tim Tebow, is on hand.
Holmes doesn’t want to hear about the doubters.
”I’m pretty sure there are, but that’s not one of my concerns,” he said. ”Neither should it be (for) anyone else that wears a green jersey. It’s not how many people (are) doubting us, it’s about what we believe in this locker room, how hard we’re going to go out and compete every week and how badly we want to win every ball game this season.”
Ryan has to smile when he hears such comments. He also has to be realistic, knowing if the Jets flop in their opener against Buffalo, much of the positivity will fade.
”I think this is going to be a good team,” he repeated. ”I don’t know how many wins that will be, but I know one thing: We will play as a team.”