- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It was just like old times, Rex Ryan delivering a sound bite Friday: "I think this has a chance to be the best team that I've had since I've been the coach here."
The question is, does he really believe it?
The New York Jets' coach sounded like he was trying to convince himself instead of stating it in a matter-of-fact tone, which is how the vintage Rex would have done it. It didn't come off as believable because of how he prefaced the quote.
"I really like this team," he said. "I don't know if we're as strong in this one area or that area, or whatever, but overall, in my opinion ..."
Translation: We might not have as much talent as we've had in the past, but we're going to coach 'em up and get them to play like a team -- unlike last season.
That's how it came across, anyway. And that's interesting because the knock on the Jets is that general manager Mike Tannenbaum didn't do an adequate job in the offseason of upgrading the talent around Mark Sanchez. For a fleeting moment, Ryan almost sounded like he was supporting that perception.
Ryan went on to say why he believes this can be his best team, listing all intangible reasons. He said "we understand complementary football," meaning they will get back to the ball-control/defensive philosophy that worked so well in 2009 and 2010.
He described the Jets as a together team, offense supporting defense (and vice versa), with every player committed to winning -- as opposed to the individual egos that fractured last season's locker room.
Funny, but about 30 minutes earlier in the locker room, Bart Scott had passed out "United We Stand" T-shirts, complete with a Jets-green American flag. Santonio Holmes, of all people, wore a T-shirt as he addressed reporters.
"Everybody thinks it's the wild, wild West in here, and it's really not," Scott said, explaining why he chose that slogan. "I want to show people what we're really like."
It remains to be seen whether the Jets are beyond last season's chemistry problems. They'd better hope so because, on paper, they're not as talented as Ryan's previous teams, which went 9-7, 11-5 and 8-8, reaching the AFC Championship Game in 2009 and 2010.
Go ahead, look at the individual units.
The receiving corps was better in 2010, with Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery. The offensive line was better in 2009, when it was the best in the league, a true ground-and-pound unit. The backfield was better in 2009 and 2010, when it had Thomas Jones, Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson at various times.
The Jets should be better at quarterback, if Sanchez improves as much as they believe he will. A big-time quarterback can camouflage imperfections. Conversely, the imperfections can make an average quarterback look terrible.
They also could be better on defense -- better than last season, anyway. It might be hard to top 2009, when they led the league in most of the major categories.
"This is definitely the best defensive line we've had, the best by far," said Mike DeVito, who has been around for all of it.
He could be right, if Muhammad Wilkerson, Kenrick Ellis and Quinton Coples are the real deal. The Jets upgraded at safety, too, with LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, but there's no Ed Reed back there. And other than Darrelle Revis, is there a blue-chip talent on defense?
Ryan loves the talent on his defense, as he's stated on several occasions. He's a defensive coach, and sometimes it looks like he's picking the players, not Tannenbaum. But you get the feeling he's concerned about the offense, which probably was what he was referring to when he said the Jets are not as strong in certain areas.
He sounded like a defensive coach, hoping his rising tide can float the boats on the other side of the ball.