CORTLAND, NEW YORK – Welcome to Camp Confidence, where bold proclamations are among the annual rites of summer for the New York Jets.
Yes, they’re talking again. And maybe even a little more than before.
Oh, and guess what? Rex Ryan doesn’t mind one bit, even though he might be a bit puzzled by what’s gotten into some of his players lately.
“I have no idea where they get that from,” Ryan deadpanned after practice Tuesday. “No idea.”
And then, he threw this out there with a wry smile, knowing he’d draw laughs: “Because you know I’m a great coach. Just ask me.”
Ah, that’s right.
Ryan has always been known to make bold proclamations since becoming coach in 2009. While he has toned down some of the bravado in recent seasons, his players have stepped in for him.
Second-year cornerback Dee Milliner recently declared to the Daily News that he believes he’s the NFL’s top cornerback, refusing to acknowledge that any player is better than him at his job.
Linebacker Calvin Pace also proclaimed to the newspaper that the Jets have the league’s best defense. Geno Smith told ESPN New York he thinks he can become a top-five quarterback.
“You know my Ray Robinson quote, ‘To be great, to be a champion, you’ve got to believe in yourself when nobody else will,’ ” Ryan said. “And that’s it. You can’t hide in this league. So if you’re saying it, that’s great, because they really believe it. But you don’t want to get embarrassed, that’s for sure.
“That means you’re going to put in the work. You’re willing to do that, and you know what comes with it.”
The Jets have made headlines for opening their mouths in the past — with Ryan leading the charge — and now, they’re starting to do it again.
Even if it’s still only July and the regular-season opener is more than a month away.
Opposing teams will take notice, that’s for sure. And, they’ll probably chuckle at the public displays of confidence — even if every other team is also feeling pretty good about itself at this point. More quietly, though, of course.
“You get a few bullets shot at you when you take this approach, so maybe that’s not recommended,” Ryan said. “But you know what? It’s who we are. It’s how we feel. They can laugh, but you’ve got to play us, too. So we’ll see at the end of the day. The beauty of it is, we get to find out.
“We’re not running from it. We’re running into it.”
Ryan always takes a positive approach to his teams heading into a season — like the time in 2010 when he signed the side of ESPN’s camp bus and scrawled “Soon To Be Champs” under his autograph.
Well, that didn’t quite work out. The Jets got close, though, falling a game shy of the Super Bowl after getting to the AFC championship game for the second straight year.
Since then, Ryan has outlasted one general manager (Mike Tannenbaum) and somehow endeared himself to the new GM (John Idzik), despite the two seeming to have opposite personalities.
The bottom line, however, is New York hasn’t been to the playoffs in three seasons, the longest drought since owner Woody Johnson bought the team in 2000. Ryan is brimming with confidence this summer, though, and it seems a bit different from a year ago.
“Maybe there’s a reason,” Ryan said. “Maybe I am more confident in this team.”
At this time a year ago, the Jets had a beleaguered Mark Sanchez competing with an inexperienced Smith for the starting job. There were five other new starters on offense and seven on defense. Ryan also pointed out that there was a new punter and 11 new assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
“Maybe I wasn’t as confident initially,” Ryan said. “I mean, I was confident, but it was like, ‘Whoo, I don’t even know these guys.’ But again, I knew myself. I knew we’d give it our best shot, for sure.”
Helped by improved play by Smith, the Jets won three of their last four to finish 8-8 and saved Ryan’s job in the process.
Idzik then went out and signed wide receiver Eric Decker, running back Chris Johnson and quarterback Michael Vick, among the best players available at their positions. They also signed right tackle Breno Giacomini, fresh off a Super Bowl win with Seattle, and filled huge needs in the draft by taking hard-hitting safety Calvin Pryor and pass-catching tight end Jace Amaro with their first two picks.
“We understand that it takes a ton of hard work and you’ve got to prove it out on the field, but we never want to sell ourselves short,” Smith said. “The main thing is that we continue to stay focused. We’re all levelheaded. No one’s here saying we cornered the market on anything. We believe that we have to put the work in.
“And if we do so, then we’ll have a good team.”