- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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Before they scattered for some vacation time before the start of training camp, Rex Ryan and his coaching staff took a road trip, venturing into enemy territory -- the Baltimore Ravens.
Ryan & Co. will spend Friday at the Ravens' training facility in Owings Mills, Md., participating in the sixth annual NFL Softball Challenge. Ryan was a Ravens assistant for a decade, always enjoying the tournament. He left the Ravens in January, 2009, to coach the Jets, but he has maintained a good relationship with his old team and still receives a softball invitation.
The King & his Court, anyone?
The Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers also participate, as does a team from the NFL office. This is a pretty big deal; Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has been known to play. It's not for players, just coaches, front-office types and staff members. Ryan is the only head coach in this year's event. It's believed the Jets have more coaches on their roster than any other team.
What makes this year particularly intriguing is that the Jets face the Ravens in the regular-season opener --an ESPN-televised Monday night game in the New Meadowlands Stadium. You think that might come up Friday on the softball diamond? Of course it will.
Ryan, true to his unabashed nature, apparently did some pre-tournament chirping about his softball team. Asked if Ryan guaranteed a victory, running backs coach Anthony Lynn laughed.
"We're going down there with a bulls eye on our chest," he said.
The Jets' team includes Ryan, Lynn, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine (an ex-Ravens assistant), offensive assistant Mike Bloomgren, defensive assistant Jeff Weeks and Ryan's executive assistant, Laura Young.
"She's the best one of all of us," Lynn said.
It's supposed to be a fun thing, but the Jets took it fairly seriously. Just the other day, Ryan conducted a practice for his squad, complete with BP and infield practice. That had to be a weird sight, Ryan smacking balls around the Jets' practice fields.
"You might be surprised," Lynn said, "but Rex is a pretty good athlete."
The head coach was sizing up his roster. If Ryan coaches softball the way he does football, they should be a fantastic defensive team. The scouting report on Ryan is that he's a slick-fielding first baseman. And wields a big stick, of course.
UPDATE: Ryan showed up to the tournament wearing a No. 1 jersey with "Defense" stitched across the back -- a not-so-subtle statement to the other teams represented at the event. The Jets, of course, owned the No. 1 defense in the NFL last season.
"There are a lot of teams here that can play defense with Baltimore, Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia,” Ryan told BaltimoreRavens.com. “I figured I’d get under everyone’s skin as always and remind everyone who had the No. 1 defense in the league last year.”
The Jets lost by a run to the Redskins in their first game in the double-elimination tournament, but Ryan still is predicting a championship.