FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- For a moment, New Rex disappeared and Old Rex returned.
Displaying vintage bravado, circa 2009-2010, Rex Ryan predicted Tuesday the New York Jets will finish with a top-five ranking in total defense.
"We will be," he said. "Right now, we're not there. Obviously, we have to make some improvements, especially after this past week. But I'm certainly confident that we'll be where we always are -- or better."
Asked why he's so confident, Ryan replied, "My history."
Ryan has a sterling track record as a defensive coach, but it still takes chutzpah to predict a top-five finish, considering the challenges. Remember, they traded CB Darrelle Revis, one of the top defensive players in the league, when healthy. They have seven new starters, including two rookies. They lost rush linebacker Quinton Coples (fractured ankle) for at least a month. And, oh, yes, they got shredded last week by the underwhelming Blaine Gabbert.
But the defense, perhaps feeding off Ryan, is supremely confident. DE Muhammad Wilkerson said they have the potential to be the league's top-rated unit, a sentiment expressed recently by LB DeMario Davis. Wilkerson said Davis, one of the young leaders, stood up at a defensive meeting in Cortland and claimed they have No. 1 potential if they follow three simple fundamentals on a consistent basis:
Line up correctly. Know your assignments. Do your job.
"Last year, we finished eighth and had some bad games," Wilkerson said. "We weren't communicating well and we let people run the ball on us. If we do those three things, I don't see why we couldn't be No. 1."
Davis said he derives much of his confidence from Ryan, whom he described as "a genius. He's a defensive guru."
Yes, it's true, the Jets finished eighth in total defense a year ago, but they also ended 20th in points allowed for the second straight season. Under Ryan, the Jets have finished first, third, fifth and eighth in total defense, fattening up last year's stats on a bunch of horrible opponents at the end of the season. In the offseason, new GM John Idzik took a wrecking ball to the unit, letting some good players walk out the door, namely LaRon Landry and Mike DeVito.
But Davis is right: Ryan is a terrific defensive mind, and he's running the defense once again on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis.
"We have a lot of good players," Ryan said. "There’s going to be a lot of new faces in there, but I guess, you put that decal on the side of your helmet, it says ‘New York Jets,' so you have to be special. You have to understand there are expectations that come along with it. I expect our guys to play extremely well."