- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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CORTLAND, N.Y. -- The five most significant words from the New York Jets' daily soap-opera script were delivered Wednesday by Rex Ryan.
"I'm on top of it," he said firmly.
You half-expected him to pull out George H. W. Bush's "read-my-lips" line.
"Listen to me when I tell you this," Ryan said. "I'm on top of it and it will not be a problem."
The coach was referring, of course, to the latest brushfire -- the sniping between cornerback Antonio Cromartie and wide receiver Chaz Schilens, who took umbrage with Cromartie's claim that he'd be the second-best receiver on the team if given a permanent role.
So much for the summer of peace and harmony.
They haven't been here a week, and already the Jets are showing signs of fracturing. On most teams, you could dismiss the gripes, chalking it up to a bad day, but this is a team that finished last season with a broken locker room.
Ryan admitted after the season he had no clue, saying he "lost the pulse of the team." That's why his put-his-foot-down moment was so important. It was an early message by Ryan, telling everybody -- media, fans, players -- it's not going to happen again. A few hours later, he addressed the matter in the team meeting, a source confirmed.
Clearly, he was steamed -- and with good reason.
Cromartie, appearing Tuesday on ESPN's "First Take," said his speed and athleticism would make him the No. 2 receiver on the team, behind Santonio Holmes.
Granted, we're not talking about the cast from "The Greatest Show of Turf," but that still was an insult to the rest of the receivers. He was discussing the wide-receiver position because the coaches are planning to give him a small package of plays.
Nevertheless, he didn't need to go there. This was akin to Holmes calling out the offensive line last season, which exacerbated the locker-room discord.
Ryan said he was aware of Cromartie's comments and, by the time he met the media after practice, the coach already had been briefed on Schilens' pointed response. Ryan wasn't in a chatty mood, cutting off questions after briefly addressing the issue.
"You guys know what was said, and back-and-forth," he said. "I'm not playing it out in the media. I'll handle this. I'm aware of it."
We're seeing a different Ryan this season and, no, that's not a reference to his slimmed-down physique. He's holding players publicly accountable.
He called out wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, who showed up out of shape and pulled a hamstring. He also tweaked Holmes, who created a headline by questioning the viability of a two-quarterback system. Ryan responded in an ESPN interview, saying Holmes gets paid to be a receiver, not the offensive coordinator.
No more Mr. Nice Guy?
No, Ryan hasn't turned into a dictator, but there's a noticeable difference in his approach. It's what happens to coaches when they feel pressure. He missed the playoffs last season, and two straight non-playoff seasons in a town like New York wouldn't be great for the ol' coaching resume.
"This is a pivotal year," said linebacker Bart Scott, meaning for everyone.
But they're not acting like it. Ryan all but accused his young receivers, most of whom are nursing muscle pulls, of being out of shape. That's never a good sign.
Training camp was supposed to be a fun time, a team-building experience in a small-town environment. Thing is, they haven't been able to escape the big-city spotlight. ESPN has been camped out here since Monday, its cameras and microphones creating a Hollywood feel. And we all know the Jets aren't camera shy.
But don't blame the media. The Jets created the circus by trading for Tim Tebow, guaranteeing unprecedented coverage. They signed up for this, and now the "magic" of Cortland -- Mark Sanchez's description -- is being threatened.
Ryan could use some magic. He needs to make these problems disappear.
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