Rex Ryan expects top rookies to start

Updated: April 29, 2012, 12:42 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The fourth draft of the Rex Ryan era produced two immediate starters and one typically bold prediction from the New York Jets' coach.

After picking four defensive players -- one more than in the previous three drafts combined -- Ryan was in such in an upbeat mood on Saturday that he said he expects his fifth-ranked defense to climb to No. 1.

"I don't want to put any undue expectations on our team," he said, smiling, "so I'm going to expect to lead the league."

[+] EnlargeQuinton Coples
AP Photo/Mel EvansThe Jets have high hopes for their defense and first-round pick Quinton Coples.

The key addition is former North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples, whom the Jets picked in the first round (16th overall). Coples and second-round wide receiver Stephen Hill, used primarily as a blocker in Georgia Tech's run-oriented offense, won't be eased into prominent roles. Ryan gave a no-hesitation response when asked if he expected both players to start.

"Yes. How's that one?" he said. "Yes, I do."

The pronouncement was somewhat awkward because Coples, who slipped in the draft because of questions about his intensity, is slated to play Mike DeVito's position on the defensive line. DeVito, a starter since 2010, is a well-respected veteran and a terrific run defender.

When asked to define DeVito's role, Ryan said he couldn't give an exact answer. Perhaps not wanting to offend DeVito, Ryan tried to backtrack on his comments about the starting job, saying both Coples and DeVito will have significant roles in various packages.

But Ryan left little doubt about his hope for Coples; it's to start.

"Anytime you draft a guy that high ... that's why you have them here, obviously," he said. "With Quinton, that's what you're looking at."

It's an easier situation with Hill because the Jets don't have a clear-cut starter opposite Santonio Holmes. Then again, it's not often that a rookie, with only 49 career catches in college, gets to step into an immediate role.

"Hill gives us something we haven't had in terms of size and speed," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said of the 6-foot-4 wideout, who blazed the 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds at the scouting combine.

The Jets focused on upgrading their team speed, with Coples, Hill and third-round linebacker Demario Davis.

Tannenbaum said Davis is "a little bit different than what we have. He has speed, where maybe Bart [Scott] and David [Harris] don't have that as much."

Ryan said Davis reminds him of a young Scott, who will be asked to mentor the former Arkansas State standout.

On Day 3, with the first of three sixth-round picks, the Jets chose unheralded Josh Bush of Wake Forest, a cornerback-turned-safety known for his pass coverage. In the seventh round, they added another safety, Antonio Allen of South Carolina.

Ryan said he was "a little shocked" that Allen, a turnover-producing machine, dropped so far. Allen, a strong safety, recorded four forced fumbles and 9.5 tackles-for-loss.

The Jets used the rest of the draft to reinforce their commitment to Ground and Pound. In the sixth round, they picked Baylor's Terrance Ganaway, a 241-pound running back who rushed for 1,547 yards last season. On the very next pick, they selected one of his teammates, 340-pound guard Robert T. Griffin.

Not to be confused with Robert Griffin III, the school's Heisman-winning quarterback. Ryan said he did a double take when Tannenbaum announced in the draft room, "We just got Robert Griffin from Baylor."

The Ganaway pick creates a logjam in the backfield. In Tony Sparano's system, Shonn Greene and Ganaway -- both power runners -- will be "A" backs. Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell are "B" backs. John Connor is the fullback.

Tannenbaum raised some eyebrows by saying Connor "is on the team right now" -- a cryptic remark that created some doubt about his status -- but the team has no plans to release Connor.

They closed the draft by taking Western Michigan wide receiver Jordan White, tremendously productive but injury prone. All told, they drafted four on offense, four on defense.

As much as the Jets loved their draft, they ignored two need areas -- outside linebacker and right tackle. Tannenbaum and Ryan talked up the current starters, Bryan Thomas and Wayne Hunter, respectively, but the two positions remain a concern.

"I believe Wayne will have a big year for us," said Ryan, suggesting that the embattled tackle will benefit from the change in offensive systems.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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