Jets have plan to convert turnovers into TDs

August, 1, 2009
8/01/09
5:22
PM ET
(AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)
Coach Rex Ryan encourages creative thinking on defense.

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Late in Saturday morning's session at New York Jets training camp, safety Jim Leonhard intercepted a Kellen Clemens pass and immediately pitched it to cornerback Lito Sheppard, who dashed for a touchdown.

As New York Daily News reporter Rich Cimini points out in his blog, such a trick never would have been allowed under the previous coach. Eric Mangini would have yanked Leonhard off the field.

But this is Rex Ryan's team now. It's no coincidence neither Leonhard nor Sheppard played for Mangini last year. They dare to think differently.

"I don't know if the Jets fans have seen that," Leonhard said. "We're going to try to put it in the end zone however we can. You might see that one on Sunday, too."

Leonhard learned Ryan's ways last year in Baltimore. Over Ryan's four seasons as the Ravens' defensive coordinator, they scored 16 defensive touchdowns, including six last year.

"He wants you to score," Leonhard said. "If you get it on defense, there's not too many offensive guys that are used to tackling. You want to keep it alive and get it in that end zone."

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome wasn't always keen on Ryan's go-for-broke style on turnover returns. Ryan said he'd be willing to discuss his philosophy with Jets owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum if they were uncomfortable with it.

As with Mangini, there's a belief it's better to fall on a turnover to preserve it rather than give the ball back.

"It's more safe than you think," Ryan said. " You take it up your near the sideline, generally it's going out of bounds if it is an errant pass. If you get two hands on the ball, you can always pitch it backwards."

Ryan has guidelines for interception returns.

The primary rule is to eliminate the intended receiver.

"That's the first guy that can make the tackle," he said. "You block him. Then we will set an edge with our other guys. We'll block quick, give our returner plenty of room."

From there, it's time to have some fun and be unafraid to get creative.

Ryan has a 4-by-4 policy on laterals, meaning the player receiving the ball must be four yards to the side and four yards behind the carrier before a pitch can be considered. This helps avoid an accidental forward lateral.

"If I'm a trail guy, if we knock down the receiver and knock him out of the play, we will turn and head up the sideline," Ryan said. "A lot of times I can be in [the 4-by-4] pitch relation, or we will have a trailer coming up behind that will assume the pitch relation."

That type of intrepidness is what makes Ryan's lively defenses so unappealing to face each week.

"When it works, it's great," Ryan said. "When it doesn't work you kind of look like a fool because you're giving the ball back. We don't want to be reckless with it, but we do want to be aggressive."

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