New York Jets: Rex Ryan

The Sanchez tattoo? Don't ask Rex

March, 25, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- So now that Mark Sanchez is an ex-Jet, the question on everybody's mind (OK, not everybody) is: What does Rex Ryan do with the infamous Sanchez tattoo on his upper-right arm?

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan, Mark Sanchez
AP Photo/Charles KrupaThe ultimate goal eluded Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez with the Jets.
Ryan responded with a sheepish look Tuesday morning when the question was posed to him during a sitdown with reporters at the NFL owners meetings.

"Guys, the tattoo is still there," he said, rolling up his sleeve to provide a partial peek. "I'm not going to say anything about the Sanchez tattoo. It was my tattoo and it's still my tattoo."

For those not familiar with Ryan's celebrated body art, the tattoo is an image of his wife wearing a Sanchez jersey. The tattoo was done back in the good old days, when Sanchez still was the Jets' franchise-type quarterback, but it didn't become a news item until January 2013, when he was photographed by a paparazzi on vacation in the Bahamas.

"I may alter it, who knows?" Ryan said. "I'm going to put 75 on it, to honor Winston Hill. That's the idea. That's what I'm going to do."

The Jets made the long-anticipated move last Friday, cutting ties with Sanchez after five seasons. Ryan claimed "there was always the possibility that Mark could've come back to our team," but I'm not buying that one. I think he was a goner, no matter what.

Ryan said it was difficult to release his former starter -- this from someone who once vowed that Sanchez would be his quarterback for as long as he coached the team. Ryan still believes Sanchez can be a starter in the league. It won't happen right away because he's expected to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he'd serve as a backup to Nick Foles.

"I hope he ends up in a good situation for him," said Ryan, commeting for the first time since Sanchez's release. "I hope it all works out for him. He's a tremendous young man. I have a lot of admiration for him. Obviously, I want him to do extremely well. With that being said, I don't want him in our division."

Ryan turned a bit nostalgic.

"I don't know if we were only rookie head coach and rookie quarterback to go to back-to-back championship games or not, but we're certainly on a small list," he said. "I think that's a pretty good accomplishment. He played a lot of good football. Unfortunately, people remember one play. Mark played well for us. We had some success, albeit not what we wanted -- ultimate success but we did have some success."

Vick, Sanchez and musical chairs at QB

March, 21, 2014
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Somewhere in SoCal or New Jersey, Mark Sanchez must be fuming, wondering where he will play football in 2014 if/when he gets cut by the New York Jets. As the slow-moving John Idzik prepares to meet Friday night with free agent Michael Vick, the most experienced quarterback on the roster is twisting in the wind, watching the number of potential landing spots dwindle.

Sanchez
In the last 24 hours, Ryan Fitzpatrick signed with the Houston Texans, who are now in the process of trading Matt Schaub to the Oakland Raiders, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. The Texans and Raiders were thought to be possible destinations for Sanchez.

No fewer than 10 teams have signed or re-signed veteran quarterbacks, leaving few options for Sanchez. The Jets don't have to make a decision until Monday, because he receives a $2 million roster bonus if he's still on the team after Monday.

Idzik is taking his sweet time, letting the market come to him. It stinks for Sanchez, who isn't permitted to speak to other teams, but it may work out for the Jets in terms of negotiating leverage with Vick -- and perhaps Sanchez, if it comes to that. The Jets could be the only team left offering a competitive quarterback situation.

We should point out that, in an interview Friday with SNY, Rex Ryan said, "Make no mistake about it, Geno Smith is going to be hard to beat out, no matter who we add." That was simply a verbal pat on the back for Smith, who might be wondering about his status with all the speculation about Vick. The truth is, it would be an open competition. Obviously, the organization wants Smith to succeed, but there's a reason why they haven't named him the starter.

At that the same time, Vick knows there's a short supply of quality quarterbacks on the market, so he can try to use that to his advantage. Meanwhile, the Jets are holding on to Sanchez to strengthen their perceived leverage, perhaps presenting him to the Vick camp as a fallback option. If they fail to sign Vick, their options would be Sanchez (if he takes a pay cut), Josh Freeman, Rex Grossman, Shaun Hill, Matt Flynn ... do we need to go on?

For the next 72 hours, it'll be a big poker game between the Jets, Vick and Sanchez.

Cornerback crisis puts Rex on edge

March, 17, 2014
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The New York Jets' current cornerback crisis reminds me of an anecdote shared by former general manager Mike Tannenbaum. This was back in April 2010, when they had just used their first-round pick on cornerback Kyle Wilson. They already had Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, so there was some question about the wisdom of adding another corner.

Ryan
Tannenbaum recalled a conversation with Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. When he hired Rex Ryan from the Ravens' staff in 2009, Tannenbaum asked Newsome what to expect.

"(Newsome) said, 'I'm shipping him up I-95, and he has a little sign around his neck that says, 'I need corners,'" Tannenbaum said at the time. "That's just who Rex is. He cannot have enough corners."

So it doesn't take a lot of imagination to understand how Ryan is feeling these days: He's freaking out.

The Jets cut Cromartie (an expected move), showed no interest in Revis when he became a free agent and haven't added any veteran corners. (Sorry, we're not counting San Diego Chargers castoff Johnny Patrick.) Their top corners, as we speak, are Dee Milliner, Wilson, Patrick and Darrin Walls.

Oh, boy.

Free agent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie visited Saturday before heading over to the New York Giants for a sitdown. He's the best available corner in a thinned-out market. He's far from perfect (he was awful for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012), but he's 28 years old, can play man-to-man and is coming off a good season with the Denver Broncos. He might not be a 10, but when an 8 hangs out with a bunch of 5s and 6s, he looks like a super hero. (Kind of reminds me of that funny nightclub scene in "Hall Pass," a very under-rated movie, if I must say.)

The ESPN free-agent tracker rates Rodgers-Cromartie, Dimitri Patterson (cut by the Miami Dolphins) and Carlos Rogers (cut by the San Francisco 49ers) as the best available corners. I'd add Cromartie to that list.

The tracker scouting reports:

Rodgers-Cromartie: "One of the best corners on the market, Rodgers-Cromartie was a solid starter on a unit that struggled in 2013. He has good size, and his length and ball skills allow him the chance to make a lot of plays. On film it looks like his pedal and turn are not always consistent, which is why he gets beaten deep too often, but he will show some good flashes in man coverage and can be effective in sub packages. He can be susceptible to double moves."

Patterson: "Patterson has very good ball skills and the route recognition to play man-to-man defense as a perimeter cornerback. Was productive when he played in 2013 but a groin injury limited him and eventually led to him being placed on injured reserve. Does not have great size or length but can be a short-term starting option for a defensive back-needy team."

Rogers: "A soon-to-be 33-year old who is now best suited to handle slot duties after several productive seasons with both Washington and then San Francisco. Rogers' injury issues have been concerning in recent seasons, and after a standout 2011, he's regressed in overall play. He has strong ball skills but lacks the burst to stick with wideouts on the perimeter."

Would Jets want Revis? Yes and no

March, 11, 2014
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Hottest question of the day: Would the New York Jets want to reunite with Darrelle Revis if he gets cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

There are mixed signals on this one. The Jets "absolutely" would be interested in the star cornerback, according to a person familiar with the team's thinking -- assuming Revis is willing to take less than his current $16 million-a-year salary. Rex Ryan has a deep affinity for Revis and, according to a person close to the coach, he likely already has brought up Revis' name is discussions with general manager John Idzik.

While the football side of the organization would love a Revis reunion, the feeling probably isn't the same on the management/ownership level. Years of acrimony between the front office and Revis' camp culminated last April with a bitter divorce, and it's unlikely Woody Johnson would sign off on a Revis 2.0, according to a person familiar with the owner's thinking.

"Woody's not going to allow Revis back in the building," the person said. "He's so anti-Revis. It would happen over his dead body, and I don't think he's ready to leave us."

The biggest question might be, would Revis even consider returning to the Jets? Unless they meet his asking price (not likely), he'd have to be desperate.

This could all be moot, of course, because the Bucs are attempting to trade Revis. The Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders reportedly have interest. Both teams have New York ties to Revis. The Browns' coach is former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, and the Raiders' assistant GM is Joey Clinkscales, the former Jets director of college scouting. The Bucs want to trade him before Wednesday. If not, they'll cut him before a $1.5 million roster bonus us due.

Road trip: Rex, Idzik visit Clemson

March, 6, 2014
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The New York Jets displayed a show of force Thursday at Clemson's pro day, with Rex Ryan, general manager John Idzik and senior director of college scouting Terry Bradway showing up to watch several NFL prospects perform for scouts and personnel types.

Watkins
The star attraction was Sammy Watkins, widely regarded as the top wide receiver in the draft and a likely top-10 pick. He stood on his 40 time from the scouting combine (4.43 seconds), but looked smooth catching the football, according to news accounts.

Watkins is Ryan's second-favorite receiver at Clemson. As many of you know, Ryan's son, Seth, is a receiver for the Tigers. The Jets' coach told the Associated Press that he would like to add a receiver (what a revelation!) and that he likes Watkins a whole lot.

"But there's no way he'll be there" when the Jets pick, Ryan said. He's right; there's no chance he'll fall to them at No. 18.

Clemson has another intriguing wide receiver, Martavis Bryant, who is 6-foot-5 and projects as a third-round possibility, according to some. The Jets' contingent also got a good look at quarterback Tajh Boyd, a late-round projection.

About 60 NFL types were in attendance, but Ryan and the Detroit Lions' Jim Caldwell were the only head coaches, according to AP.

Time for Jets to prepare a Byrd cage

March, 3, 2014
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The New York Jets haven't doled out a lucrative, multi-year contract for a safety since Kerry Rhodes signed a five-year, $33.5 million deal in 2008 -- a contract then-coach Eric Mangini, speaking to a friend years later, called one of his biggest regrets. But that's besides the point; the message here is that since 2009, in Rex Ryan's cornerback-centric system, the organization hasn't paid premium prices at the safety position.

It should take a hard look at changing the philosophy now that Jairus Byrd appears headed for the open market.

Byrd
The Buffalo Bills declined to use the franchise tag on Byrd (the deadline was 4 p.m. Monday), meaning he will become an unrestricted free agent March 11. That's assuming he doesn't re-sign with the Bills, which appears highly unlikely.

Byrd will demand serious coin -- he reportedly rejected a deal that would have paid him $30 million for the first three years -- but he's so good that the Jets should investigate. Byrd is a younger version of Ed Reed, sans the dynamic return ability. He's a ball hawk with uncanny instincts, a presence in the deep middle. The Jets like to play a lot of single-high safety looks, and Byrd would be a terrific scheme fit. Their problems against the deep ball would disappear with him patrolling center field.

Obviously, the Jets are doing something right on defense (five straight years in the top 11), but they've done so with a glaring lack of production at safety. Since 2009, the Jets' safeties have combined for only 16 interceptions. (We're not including six by Dwight Lowery, a safety/cornerback hybrid who played mostly in sub packages.) Since 2009, when Byrd entered the league as a second-round pick, the soon-to-be-former Bills star has 22 interceptions. By the way, that includes six against the Jets.

So will the Jets pursue Byrd? My gut tells me no. It sounds like they will entrust the position again to Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen & Co., perhaps adding a player in the draft. Clearly, they have bigger needs on offense, but they have enough salary-cap room to plug those needs and make a big splurge on defense. Maybe a look at the list below will change their mind.

Safety interceptions since 2009:

Ed Reed, Eric Smith, Kerry Rhodes -- 3 apiece
LaRon Landry, Jim Leonhard -- 2 apiece
Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen, Brodney Pool -- 1 apiece

Polian: Jets 'made the Patriots say 'Uncle'

February, 22, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Caught up with former general manager-turned-ESPN analyst Bill Polian, who provided his State of the New York Jets:

“The good news is that Rex (Ryan) is always going to have a defense that’s not only competitive, but pretty damn good -- if not dominant, pretty damn good. I thought they made tremendous improvement on the offensive line. Some of that was personnel, but I think the scheme fit them pretty well. The fact that they went 8-8, with as few quality receivers as they had, speaks to how good the defense was and how good the running game was.

"They wanted to come out and bludgeon you, like they did to the Patriots in New England (Week 2). They made the Patriots say, 'Uncle,' and that was before all the (New England) injuries (on defense). The quarterback (Geno Smith) goes and throws it away. That's what rookie quarterbacks do; they break your heart. But they did the same thing to the Dolphins with all the money on the line in Miami.

“Overall, the Jets are a very competitive, if not dominant team on defense and they run the ball well. If the quarterback can play efficiently ... part of that is giving him some weapons he can count on. If they can do that, I think they can jump to the next level.”

Jets believe in Geno ... they have no choice

February, 21, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- At the risk of being flagged for a delay-of-name penalty, the New York Jets refuse to anoint Geno Smith as their starting quarterback. It's just semantics, of course. Whether they declare it or not, they expect him to begin 2014 as the starter.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneThe Jets have plenty invested in Geno Smith, but they'll be at the combine looking for another quarterback next year if he doesn't take a step forward in 2014.
You don't need to be a detective to figure that out. The Jets' hierarchy has used the NFL scouting combine as a pro-Geno platform, expressing optimism -- publicly and privately -– in the second-year quarterback.

But let's face it: The Jets are stuck between a Roc Nation and a hard place. If Jay Z's client backslides this season, they will return to the combine next year with a new coach and a quarterback-needy general manager.

With limited options, the Jets are embarking on a Geno-or-bust journey in 2014. This is the situation that John Idzik has created. The second-year GM handpicked Smith, and you can bet he'll do everything he can to help him succeed.

He'd better be right. If not, the Jets will be in the Marcus Mariota sweepstakes next year, just another draft-lottery team desperate for a franchise quarterback. No team wants to be in that predicament. For the Jets, it would be yet another do-over at the most important position.

So, yeah, they have a lot invested in Smith. They're gambling that those final four games were a harbinger of a bright future, not simply a mirage. It's risky business, placing significant weight on three wins over mediocre competition, but the Jets believe he matured down the stretch.

"He had some rough spots, as the rest of us did as well, but I like the way he finished," Rex Ryan told the national media.

Ryan showed up at the combine armed with research. He mentioned how Smith engineered five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter, second only to Tom Brady, and he noted that Smith's QBR over the final four games (78.9) was second-best in the league. Just recently, Ryan took great pleasure in describing how Smith advanced by "a million miles" through the course of the season.

"We were encouraged by the way we, as a team, finished 2013, in particular how Geno finished," Idzik said. "He finished on a strong note. There were a lot of positive signs."

Former longtime general manager Bill Polian, now an ESPN analyst, agreed with that assessment. But he said of Smith, "Now he's got to make a jump as a professional quarterback. That means fewer interceptions. That's the bottom line."

Polian, reaching into his past, noted how Peyton Manning also struggled in his rookie season, 1998, but that "the arrow was up for the last six games, so we felt good going into the offseason. I'm sure the Jets feel good about [Smith]. His arrow was up for the last four games."

The Indianapolis Colts weren't about to ditch Manning after one year because he was a No. 1 overall pick, so it's not really an apples-to-apples comparison with Smith. He doesn't have that kind of long-term security, but he'll get another season to prove himself as a franchise-caliber quarterback.

What choice do the Jets have?

They own the 18th pick in the draft, high enough to select a quality playmaker to help the offense, but not high enough to take one of the top three quarterbacks. If they draft one, it'll be a developmental player in the later rounds.

Free agency? The market will be filled with short-term fixes, former starters who now project as backups. The Jets probably will sign a David Garrard type, presumably one with healthy knees who can actually get on the field. Maybe it'll be Michael Vick, 33, but he'd be a Band-Aid, not a solution.

How about a trade? The most logical possibility no longer is possible. The Washington Redskins reportedly have no intention of dealing Kirk Cousins, whom many thought would be dangled in trade talks.

Mark Sanchez? Idzik didn't want to go there last year, so there's no reason to think he'll change his thinking, especially with Sanchez coming off shoulder surgery.

Somehow, Idzik must fortify his depth chart with a seasoned quarterback.

"You have to have a quality backup; I'm living proof of that," said Polian, who got burned in 2011 when Manning sat out the season with a neck injury. "If we had one, I'd be talking to you in a different capacity. The bottom line is, you have to have that guy. Who it is isn't as important as what it is."

So true, but the Jets aren't going to land a future starter -- unless they find a winning lottery ticket in the dumpster. The upcoming season is all about Smith, his ability to improve and lead the team to the next level -- the postseason. He's out of mulligans.

If Smith regresses, Idzik will be back in Indianapolis next February, looking for a new quarterback to pair with his new coach.

Jets not worried about locker-room bullying

February, 21, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- One of the questions that has emerged in the wake of the Miami Dolphins' bullying scandal is whether it will have an impact on locker rooms across the NFL, perhaps causing teams to become more vigilante. In terms of the New York Jets, the answer is no.

"Obviously, to us, work place environment is very important," general manager John Idzik said at the scouting combine. "That’s how you nurture a true team concept, true togetherness, so that’s always been a part of what we do. I think (the Miami situation) just added a little bit more national attention to that aspect of what clubs do, but it hasn’t really changed our attention to it."

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who somehow survived the fallout, has been heavily criticized for claiming he didn't know the fraternity-house behavior was happening in his locker room. How could a coach, responsible for creating and monitoring the work-place enviroment, not know?

Well, Rex Ryan offered some insight in that respect. At the end of the 2011 season, Ryan admitted he "lost the pulse" of his locker room, which was torn by dissension. The biggest clash occurred between Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes, the focal point of the dysfunction. Who can forget that infamous moment in Miami, when Holmes fought with teammates in the huddle and was benched?

Two years later, Ryan empathized with Philbin, relating it to his own situation.

"Even though I think I'd have as good a pulse as any coach in this league on his locker room, even in that case, I thought a problem was resolved and obviously it wasn’t," Ryan said. "Those things can happen."

Ryan said he's not worried about bullying in his locker room.

"I believe our locker room is strong," he said. "I don’t know all the particulars in (the Dolphins') situation, but … You don’t have to like all your teammates, but you have to respect everybody. That’s the way our locker room is handled."

Rex Ryan: Sam would 'fit right in' with Jets

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Rex Ryan believes his locker room would have no problem accepting an openly gay football player.

"I think he’d be welcome," said the New York Jets' coach Thursday at the NFL scouting combine, referring to Michael Sam, of course. "I don’t think he’d be any different than any other player we have. One thing I know for sure: You’re going to have 53 different players. They’re all different -- different religious beliefs, what they look like, height, weight, married, single.

"Everybody is different," Ryan continued. "The main thing we talk about is respect in our locker room. Even though everybody is different, it’s a respect thing. If a young man is good football player and a good teammate, that’s all we ask. He’d fit in just like the rest of our guys."

Later, in an interview with ESPN New York 98.7, Ryan said Sam "wouldn't be a problem in our room. I'm sure he'd fit right in." He added that he'd be "disappointed" if his locker room didn't embrace the former Missouri defensive end.

General manager John Idzik, addressing reporters at the combine, echoed Ryan's remarks. This was the organization's first public comment on Sam, who came out recently and could be the first openly gay player in the NFL.

Ryan declined to say if Sam would be a scheme fit for the Jets, saying he hasn't watched any tape of him. A shade under 6-2, the 255-pound Sam is considered a tweener -- too small to play defensive end, but not athletic enough to play linebacker. He's projected as a middle-round draft pick.

Sanchez will be ready, but for whom?

February, 20, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Mark Sanchez is progressing well with his shoulder rehab and has resumed throwing, according to New York Jets officials. But they clammed up when asked if Sanchez will be doing his throwing for the Jets in 2014.

The former starter is expected to be a salary-cap casualty in the coming weeks, and neither Rex Ryan nor general manager John Idzik said anything Thursday that indicated otherwise. They wanted no part of a Sanchez discussion, with Ryan refusing to give a basic overview of the quarterback position.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesThe Jets owe Mark Sanchez a $2 million roster bonus if he's still on the team March 25.
"I prefer not to," Ryan told reporters at the NFL scouting combine. "We’ll just say this: Let's talk about where Geno [Smith] left off."

And he proceeded to praise Smith for his strong finish. It's not hard to read between the lines here, folks.

Sanchez has a $13.1 million cap charge in 2014, including a $2 million roster bonus due March 25, and there's no way he will be on the roster at that number. The only question is whether the Jets will try to retain him by offering to restructure his contract -- i.e. a massive pay cut. If the Jets were to take that route, they'd probably offer Sanchez an incentive-laden deal with base pay in the $2 million-to-$3 million range for the coming season, according to a longtime personnel executive. His current base pay is $9 million.

It's quite possible the Jets will simply cut bait, making no effort to keep him. It's also possible that Sanchez would reject a pay cut, forcing his release by March 25. His agents are expected to meet with Idzik here at the combine.

Ryan gave his stock answer, saying he'd "absolutely" like to have Sanchez back. He says that about every player whose status is uncertain. Idzik declined to comment. Quite frankly, his non-answers were eerily reminiscent to those from last year's combine, when he dodged questions about trade rumors involving Darrelle Revis. Of course, we all know how that turned out.

"We tend to let things play out," Idzik said of Sanchez's situation. "We still have some time there. We know he’ll be ready (for the season). We’ll just let that take its course."

Economics aside, the big factor is Sanchez's surgically repaired throwing shoulder. He's four months into what was initially projected as a four- to five-month process. Both Idzik and Ryan praised Sanchez's diligent approach, repeating the sound bites they used last February for Revis and his knee rehab.

"His whole focus -- and I know he’s doing a great job of this – is rehabbing, getting that shoulder back to where he’s throwing right now," Ryan said of Sanchez. "I know he’s doing whatever he can to get back."

Added Idzik: "We’re assuming Mark is going to be fine with his shoulder."

Of course, the Jets are best served by giving a glowing medical report. They need to enhance Sanchez's market value, assuming they try to trade him. Good luck with that.

League observers expect the Jets to replace Sanchez with another veteran, possibly Michael Vick, a free agent. Smith is the odds-on favorite to start, although Idzik continued to spew his semantic approach to the quarterback situation, refusing to name Smith the starter.

"We don't anoint starters in February, and we don't anoint them in March," Idzik said.

There will be another quarterback competition, because everything is competition in Idzik's world -- just don't expect Sanchez to be part of it. They won't acknowledge it publicly, but the Jets want no part of the egg-on-face possibility of Sanchez beating out Smith in training camp. Idzik said Sanchez still can be a starter in the league, but he measured his words carefully.

"We know Mark Sanchez," Idzik said. "He’s been a productive player in this league, a productive starter in this league. We know how he works, we know how he’s going to put everything into his rehab. We know how he’s going to be ambitious in his career. What would lead you to believe he wouldn’t (be a starter again)? That’s who Mark is. He’s competitor and he’s done it before."

And he hopes to do it again, but probably not with the Jets.

Wake-up call: Combine, Day 2

February, 20, 2014
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On the schedule for Thursday in Indianapolis:

New York Jets/Giants media availability: New York Jets coach Rex Ryan (2:45 p.m.) and general manager John Idzik (3 p.m.) are scheduled for news conferences. The hot topics will be the futures of Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie; the draft and free agency; and the organization's first public comment on former Missouri DE Michael Sam. The New York Giants' media availability begins Friday.

Combine schedule: Placekickers, special teamers, offensive linemen and tight ends will undergo medical exams, measurements and team interviews. They also will be available to the media. ... Quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs arrive in town. They will have a medical pre-exam, X-rays, orientation and team interviews.

Players of interest: The Jets (18th overall pick) and Giants (12th) both have a need at tight end, so North Carolina's Eric Ebron -- the consensus top player at the position -- will be a focal point among the New York reporters. Ebron has the ability to light up the combine -- on and off the field. He's confident and entertaining, once bragging that his speed should be "illegal." He will be asked about his weight in light of a recent report that he put on extra pounds in an effort to become a better blocker. ... The Giants need help at offensive tackle, so Thursday's media session will offer a chance to meet first-round possibilities, namely Michigan's Taylor Lewan. We know how the Giants love those Big 10 linemen.

Geno heads to Florida, works with QB guru

February, 18, 2014
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Geno Smith prepared for the NFL scouting combine by working out with quarterback guru Chris Weinke at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. A year later, Smith is taking the same approach to his offseason.

Smith
The New York Jets' quarterback was seen Monday at IMG, working in a private session with Weinke, IMG's director of football operations. You probably remember Weinke as the former Heisman Trophy winner from Florida State. Smith has been working with Weinke in recent days, trying to stay sharp and fine-tuning his throwing mechanics. Weinke also is tutoring Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, one of the top prospects in the upcoming draft.

If you're a Jets fan, it's always encouraging to hear your quarterback is working on his own in an effort to improve. Smith "has come a million miles" from the start of his rookie season, Rex Ryan said recently, but it's obvious that he still has a ways to go. The Jets' offseason program doesn't begin until early April, so Smith is taking a proactive approach as he prepares for his second season.

At least he's not in New Jersey, stuck inside because of the winter weather.

A year ago, Smith went into the combine thinking he had a chance to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. In an interview at IMG last February, he told USA Today, "I feel like I am the best" quarterback in the draft "and [given] what I've done up until this point, I do have a case for being the No. 1 overall pick."

Obviously, it didn't turn out that way. Smith fell to 39th, but he ended up starting every game. Now he waits as the Jets embark on an offseason in which they're likely to add a quarterback.

Sunday notes: Would Jets embrace Sam?

February, 16, 2014
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Catching up with the New York Jets:

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Debby Wong/USA TODAY SportsThe Jets didn't handle the Tim Tebow circus particularly well, so how would they handle prospect Michael Sam?
1. Welcome mat? Curiously, the Jets' players were relatively quiet on Twitter when Michael Sam made his announcement last Sunday. How would they feel about an openly gay player on their team? Sheldon Richardson spoke highly of Sam, his former college teammate, in a TV interview. Another player, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told me, "Besides the amount of media, you're dealing with some guys who might not be comfortable with it. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC, so, obviously, the guy can play some ball. At the end of the day, it's all about playing football. If we could use him, I don't see why not. I think we'd welcome him. We know he's a heckuva player."

As the player noted, the media factor would be significant. Anybody who doesn't think it wouldn't be a distraction is fooling themselves. Some teams handle distractions well; some don't. The Jets didn't exactly stage a clinic during the Tim Tebow circus in 2012. The team has yet to comment on Sam, but general manager John Idzik and Rex Ryan will address the media Thursday at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.

1a. Not a Jets fan: Six days ago, I examined the possibility of whether the Jets might be interested in Michael Sam. Maybe the question should be, why should Sam be interested in the Jets? A Sam acquaintance -- Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of OutSports.com -- doesn't think the Jets would be a good landing spot for Sam. Zeigler, who was involved with Sam's agents and publicists in the strategic planning of his announcement, trashed the Jets and other teams in an interview with a CBS radio affiliate in Washington, D.C.

“He can work on any team with decent leadership,” Zeigler said. “I pray to God he doesn’t end up on the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Jets or the Washington Redskins. I think those three teams -- they have poor leadership, but most of the other teams in the NFL have guys -- the coaching staff, the front office and locker room -- who are equipped to deal with this.”

2. Under the microscope: Aside from the social and cultural aspect to the story, Sam's football skills will be under intense scrutiny, starting this week at the combine. He'll generate more attention than any middle-round projection in history. Many scouts will be looking to see if he has the athleticism to make the conversion from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. One NFC scout, who watched Sam closely at the Senior Bowl, doesn't think he can do it.

"He's not a linebacker," the scout said. "He doesn't have the instincts or the movement skills. ... He's a tenacious, tough kid, but he's not a space guy."

The scout also was surprised to see Sam play defensive end in the Senior Bowl game after practicing primarily at linebacker during the week. He took that as a sign that Sam doesn't feel comfortable at linebacker. If the Jets agree with the assessment that he can't play linebacker, it's hard to imagine them drafting a defensive end whose size (6-1 5/8, 255 pounds) isn't a fit in their scheme. Besides, they don't have a pressing need for an edge player.

The scout also said "there's no question in my mind" that Sam's sexual orientation will have an impact on his draft position. "I know it's the 21st century, but you still have people who were brought up a certain way," he said. "Forget about the coaches and administrators, what about the players? You have to think twice about putting the player in your locker room."

3. Double-E: The pre-draft speculation has focused on the Jets' need at wide receiver, but let's not forget, their tight-end depth chart is almost barren. Word is they're very intrigued by North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. Projected as a mid-first-round pick, Ebron will be linked to the Jets in plenty of mock drafts over the next 2 1/2 months. He's the kind of pass-catching threat they need, but there are some questions. "I don't think he's tough enough to run down the seam and catch the ball in the middle," an AFC personnel executive said. "Is he a great athlete? Yes. Does he have good hands? Yes. Can he catch the ball in traffic? I don't think so." Ebron is the kind of athlete that will wow evaluators at the combine and workouts, but teams will have to rely on game tape to determine if the toughness questions are accurate.

4. The Idzik way: Under general manager John Idzik, the Jets have tweaked some of their player-scouting methods. Terry Bradway, the team's senior director of college scouting, told the team web site, "We're putting a huge emphasis on the person and the character issues, both football and personal. We've done that in the past, but there's an added emphasis." Holding true to that philosophy, they didn't take any significant gambles in last year's draft -- at least not in terms character questions.

5. Say hello to T-Mac: There hasn't been much written about new Jets special teams coach Thomas McGaughey (the team hasn't made him available to the media), but I talked to someone who worked with him on an NFL team and the feedback was positive. He was described to me as, "A really sharp guy ... a straight shooter ... takes a lot of pride in his work." McGaughey (pronounced: Mc-GAY-hee) spent the last three seasons as LSU's special-teams coach. His insight into SEC players will be valuable during the pre-draft evaluation process. Remember this name: Odell Beckham, Jr. He was a top receiver/kick returner for LSU, and McGaughey is said to be very high on him. A postscript on McGaughey: He interviewed with the Jets in 2008, when Mike Westhoff took a medical leave of absence.

6. Down on Geno: Former longtime Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who interviewed for the Jets' job last season, offers an insightful quarterback analysis on sidelineview.com. Grading players on a nine-point scale, the way teams grade college players on their draft board, Angelo rates Geno Smith as the 29th quarterback. He puts Smith in the 6.0-6.4 grouping, which he describes as: "Can start and compete with him with a good supporting cast and quality coaching, but lacks something, i.e., arm talent (strength or accuracy), poise, instincts. Not good enough. To win with him 2 of the 3 of the phases have to be dominate or surround him with high caliber players."

Commenting specifically on Smith, Angelo says, "Got a lot of playing time, which may have helped him or hurt him. Too many interceptions and negative plays. His numbers were terrible. His progress will depend on his learning from this year’s struggles. Otherwise, defensive coordinators will have a field day with him. Quarterbacks make a living from the neck on up, not the neck on down." I agree. We know Smith has the physical talent; now we'll see how well he can process what he learned last season.

7. Brown and green: The Cleveland Browns' dysfunction (clown car, anyone?) reminds me of the turn-of-the-century Jets. In a span of 364 days, from Jan. 3, 2000 to Dec. 31, 2000, they saw three head coaches quit -- Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and Al Groh. Ah, memories. The Browns are on their third coach and third GM in three years. Former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is a promising, young coach, but you wonder if he'll get swallowed up by the Browns' ineptitude.

Examining team needs: Safety

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
10:00
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Rex Ryan needs to revamp his philosophy regarding the safety position. Instead of trying to get by on the cheap, it's time for the New York Jets to invest in the position.

In Ryan's system, the big money goes to the cornerbacks. The safeties are considered interchangeable parts. The Jets haven't drafted a safety in the first three rounds since 2006 (Eric Smith) and they haven't doled out big bucks since Kerry Rhodes (2008) -- both pre-Ryan moves. They splurged a little for LaRon Landry in 2012 ($3.5 million), but it was only a one-year contract. He made the Pro Bowl and they let him walk.

Allen
Landry
The safeties had an alarming lack of big plays last season. The ancient Ed Reed showed up in mid-November and he finished with more interceptions (three) than Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen combined (two). The defense allowed so many long pass plays that Ryan did something that pained him -- he used a two-deep alignment at times. He'd rather wear New England Patriots gear in public than play Cover 2 looks, but he felt he had no choice, especially with his cornerbacks also struggling.

Safeties are important. Just look at the Seattle Seahawks and what they've been able to do with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. It's time for the Jets to add a playmaker on the back end. Will they? No -- unless Ryan does a 180.

Projected offseason plan: With starters Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen under contract, along with backups Josh Bush and Jaiquawn Jarrett, the Jets are expected to stand pat. Their expectation is that Allen and the backups will continue to develop. Reed, 35, is an unrestricted free agent, but he doesn't figure in the immediate plans. He could be a fallback option if there's an injury down the line.

Free agency: If the Buffalo Bills are dumb enough to let Jairus Byrd hit the open market, the Jets should be all over him. He's exactly what they need, an instinctive ballhawk still in the prime of his career at age 27. He has 22 interceptions in five years and he's familiar with the Ryan system, having played in a similar scheme last season under former Jets coordinator Mike Pettine. Put Byrd in the deep middle of their Cover 1, and everything changes. He'll have a huge price tag (at least $8 million per year), but he'd be worth it. He also could get slapped with the franchise tag for the second straight year. T.J. Ward (Cleveland Browns) would be a terrific Plan B. He's only 27, a player on the rise, but you have to think the Browns, with a ton of cap room, won't let him get away. Then again, they're the Browns, so you never know.

Draft: It would be a major upset if the Jets take a safety in the first round, so forget about Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor, whose stock is creeping up. A second-round possibility could be Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward. But, like we said earlier, it's not Ryan's style to pick a safety this high.

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