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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan did it again, another guarantee. Except this time, it wasn't a Super Bowl. He promised team harmony.
Wrapping up minicamp, the unofficial end to the offseason, the New York Jets' coach insisted Thursday his once-dysfunctional team will make nice in 2012.
"I don't know how many wins we're going to have, but I know we'll have that corrected," he said, referring to last season's locker-room turmoil. "We will have a close football team. We're not going to beat ourselves with infighting. That's a thing of the past."
|As the Jets try to shed their infighting image, some players -- such as Santonio Holmes -- will face more scrutiny than others.|
That, of course, is June talk. Every team has terrific chemistry in June, the best time of year to be a football player. Everything is good in June, when bodies and minds are fresh. The true test comes in the fall, when the bonds of the brotherhood are tested in the crucible of the real season.
The Jets failed that exam last season, failed it so badly that Ryan, looking back, called it "embarrassing." It put a dark cloud over the organization and enraged the fan base. There's nothing more unbecoming in sports than a team that bickers its way through a late-season collapse.
That was five months ago, a "very distant memory," nose tackle Sione Pouha said. After an eight-week offseason program, the players scattered for vacation, confident their chemistry problems have been resolved.
The attendance during the voluntary workouts was 99 percent, according to Ryan, who believes the high turnout illustrates the team's togetherness. It's a positive, no doubt.
That the offseason began in mid-April, a month later than usual (thanks to the new rules), probably worked in the Jets' favor. It created a longer cooling-off period, putting more distance between them and that infamous New Year's Day in Miami.
The internal problems, which festered throughout the season, finally erupted in the final game -- an ugly loss to the Dolphins in which a disgruntled Santonio Holmes was benched after nearly coming to blows with tackle Wayne Hunter in the huddle.
That, according to Ryan, was "the low point." The next day, he made a stunning admission, revealing he had "lost the pulse" of the team.
Ryan said he learned a hard lesson. He said it won't happen again, not on his watch.
"I can tell you right now what I learned from it: I'm on top of it," said Ryan, now a presence in most offensive and defensive meetings with the players. "Our coaches are on top of it and our players understand it."
Like a reporter digging for answers, Ryan met individually with dozens of players early in the offseason, hoping to resolve the issues. He hired a no-nonsense offensive coordinator in Tony Sparano and took a back-to-basics approach with the defense.
"I don't think it was as bad as some people say it was," Ryan said, "but there were certainly some issues that we had to get corrected."
The biggest concern is the Holmes-Mark Sanchez relationship, which deteriorated late last season. The two players met a few times in the offseason, and claim their problems are behind them.
Privately, there's still some concern about Holmes, a mercurial personality. His minicamp media silence notwithstanding, he has managed to stay out of trouble. The question is whether he'll be a good teammate in October, when the offense is throwing the ball only 25 times a game.
For the most part, the past three months have gone smoothly for the team, with most of the media attention focused on Tim Tebow and the possibility of a quarterback controversy.
Imagine that: The Jets got ripped for acquiring Tebow, but the uproar has worked to their benefit. The twin lightning rods, Tebow and Sanchez, have overshadowed the chemistry issue.
Tight end Dustin Keller called it a "roller-coaster" offseason, adding, "Things did get kind of bad at the end of the season ... but this year things are better. We have a lot of guys that love playing for each other."
Some players feel the lockout hurt the chemistry last season because it forced the cancellation of their training camp in Cortland, N.Y. -- a get-away-from-home spot that secluded the team. But guard Brandon Moore said, "Thirty-one other teams didn't have training camp. That's no excuse."
Ryan has tried different motivational gimmicks to rebuild camaraderie. For instance, the entire defense wore black jerseys on the final day of minicamp, a reward for outplaying the offense the previous day. Ryan said he got the idea from Sparano.
"It's a fun thing that creates competition," Ryan said.
Better to wear black jerseys than black hats.