Rex Ryan will not go down quietly. While rumors are swirling that the longtime Jets coach is in danger of losing his job if the team repeats its performance from last year, Ryan will begin to focus on what brought him to the head coaching position in the first place, his talents as a defensive coordinator. Together with current defensive coordinator, Dennis Thurman, Coach Ryan hopes that he can alleviate pressure on his offense and build a recipe for success.
The process began this past April at the NFL Draft. Despite analysts across the nation believing the Jets would take an offensive cornerstone with one of their two top 15 picks, Gang Green decided to use both picks to bolster their talents on the defensive side. The No. 9 pick yielded Crimson Tide cornerback Dee Milliner, a player who fell into the Jets lap after sliding a few picks lower than his projection. Thurman expects big things from the young cornerback who was selected to bring depth to the position after All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis departed for Tampa Bay. Thurman expects Milliner to transition well to the NFL and with his ability to play both the run and the pass, Milliner could emerge as a bonafide star.
"He's very talented. The guy can cover, but he's not afraid to get involved in the run game," Thurman told a group of season ticket holders at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. "He's a complete corner. He has a chance to be a big-time player and we're looking forward to coaching him."
Joining Milliner on the defensive side of the ball is No. 13 pick Sheldon Richardson out of Missouri. Richardson was added to help the Jets bring increased pressure on opposing quarterbacks. In a league that has become increasingly reliant on the arm of franchise quarterbacks, players that can bring pressure and disrupt the offensive rhythm are becoming a hot commodity. With that mentality, Richardson was brought on to put the line over the top. Now with the Bradys and Rodgers of the league staring down Richardson and Muhammed Wilkerson on the defensive line, decisions will have to be made quicker or else risk a sack and yards lost.
"To get him at 13, we thought was somewhat of a steal. The guy brings a lot of passion, a lot of energy to the game and to the position," Thurman said. "He will give us some inside presence as a pass rusher. We feel like with the drafting of (Quinton) Coples last year and Muhammad Wilkerson the year before and big Kenrick Ellis, we have a defensive front we can be proud of and get pressure on the quarterback without necessarily having to blitz."
With potentially seven new starters on the defense to open the season, Ryan will have to find new ways to bring a brotherhood of players together and play as a unit. Oftentimes, this means players doing more than what is asked of them. Take Quinton Coples. Coples has played the line for most of his football career but Thurman is making a change and starting the second-year player as a linebacker in the upcoming season. With Coples making the switch, the losses of Bart Scott and Bryan Thomas will not seem as great. And falling into Coples' old spot will be Richardson.
"He will be a hybrid in this defense… His job is to go chase the quarterback. But in order for him to be successful in this defense, he is going to have to learn certain things that he wasn't required to do prior before the move being made," Thurman said of Coples.
The Jets have no room for error entering the new season. With the troubles of 2012 still fresh in their minds, the team will have to regroup and find a new way to win their football games. The offense has not gotten any better over the span of the year. An outsider would even say that it got worse, as the Jets selected a future quarterback but once again failed to surround him with the talent to succeed. If the team hopes to have a winning record, it will come on the backs of their defense. With Ryan at the helm, expect the Jets to finish in the upper echelon of defensive units at the end of the 2013 season.
"It's going to very competitive," said Thurman with a smile. "We have some talent — they are just no-name guys. But hopefully by the end of the season, you'll know their names."