Rex Ryan lauds Jets defense

A few weeks ago, coach Rex Ryan disagreed with a comment by quarterback Mark Sanchez, who had compared the New York Jets' defense to the '85 Chicago Bears. Not even the ultra-confident Ryan would go that far.

But he believes his defensive unit can be pretty special.

"Will we end up being the best defense in football? I think so," the Jets' coach said Tuesday. "I challenge everybody: Put your negative comments out there and we'll see what happens in the end, because I think our defense is going to be outstanding.

"I wouldn't trade this defense for anybody's in the league."

It doesn't take much prodding for Ryan to speak glowingly of his beloved defense, which finished first and third in yards allowed over the last two seasons, respectively. But this summer, the defense has supplied him with more ammunition. In five quarters, covering 16 possessions, the starting unit has allowed only 10 points.

There are tangible reasons for Ryan to be more optimistic than usual. There are 10 returning starters on defense, nine of whom have two years experience in Ryan's system. Finally, there is stability in the secondary, which should mean better in-game communication. They have 10 defensive backs that have played under Ryan and coordinator Mike Pettine.

For a change, outside linebacker Calvin Pace will be in the opening day lineup. Pace, their best pass rusher, missed the first month of the 2009 and 2010 seasons because of a league suspension and a broken foot.

Another plus: Cornerback Darrelle Revis, their best player, is in camp and in shape. A year ago, his early play suffered because of a preseason holdout that probably caused a hamstring injury in Week 2.

Ryan opened training camp by apologizing for last season's No. 3 ranking, and he didn't make the statement to be funny. In private, he shared the same message with the players, stressing the importance of getting back to No. 1.

"That's a serious tone, man -- a very serious alert," nose tackle Sione Pouha said.

There are questions. The Jets still rely heavily on blitzing to generate a pass rush, the pass coverage in the middle of the field is suspect at times and they're counting on a few unproven players up front, including rookie defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.

Opposing scouts say the Jets are vulnerable in space against running backs and tight ends. Even Ryan acknowledged their perimeter run defense needs to be shored up. But the Jets are banking on their chemistry -- they return 10 starters -- to help compensate for some shortcomings.

The coaches may throw a curve ball by using more zone coverage than in the past. Ryan is a believer in man-to-man, but they became predictable at times. Opponents exploited their man-to-man schemes by using "pick" routes, according to one player. In the playoffs, they "zoned" Tom Brady into utter confusion, so why not keep it going?

"We're going to be tough to beat, physically," Ryan said. "And when you can't beat us mentally, which you shouldn't be able to do, it should be a long day for you."

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.