A Jets defense that was top five in the league last year can be better, so says Jets head coach Rex Ryan. Perhaps more importantly, his players are saying the same thing.
In Ryan’s first year with the Jets, the defense was tops in the league, limiting the opposition to just 252.3 yards per game. It was an aggressive, no-nonsense unit that blitzed and confused offenses and finished the season as perhaps the most feared defense in the league. In many ways, it was a continuation of Ryan’s work as defensive coordinator in Baltimore.
The Jets think that this year’s team might be as good as the unit in 2009.
“It has a chance to be,” Ryan said during minicamp. “Now again, that defense really came together but I don’t see any reason why it can’t be that good.”
Plagued by inconsistencies last year, the Jets defense was nowhere near as good as their top five ranking would suggest. They gave up 363 points last season, the worst number of any defense ranked in the top 15 in the league. The defense was also prone to penalties and mental errors, often giving up big plays.
So given last year’s lackluster showing, why the optimism in Jets land? The Jets did make some upgrades in free agency to their secondary as well as using four draft picks to bolster the defense, but the talent level doesn’t appear to be as good (or as deep) as that 2009 team. For safety Yeremiah Bell, though, that defense was enough of a selling point to help recruit him to the Jets when he was a free agent.
“I thought it was an attacking defense. The players they had and the way they played, you could see they had a lot of fun with it and they knew their job. From the outside looking in, that’s the type of system you want to be in, a team that is dominating offenses. They were playing so well that there isn’t too much an offense can do to you,” Bell said.
“That defense was always a part of mind. I’ve known that since Rex has been here in New York, they’ve been among the best. When as a defensive player you’ve got a head coach wanting you, as a defensive player you want to play in the best system; you want to play with guys who know what they’re doing. Rex just kind of solidified it for me. He made me want to be here.”
But the weight of Ryan and his reputation as a defensive mastermind is in for a tall order this year with question marks throughout the defense. Bell was a star in Miami for eight years and continues to produce, but he turned 34 years old this past March, an age where many safeties begin to decline.
Another big free agent signing, safety LaRon Landry, is coming off a foot injury and hasn’t played a full season since 2008. Though first-round pick Quinton Coples was targeted by the Jets as the player they wanted most at pick No. 16, he has never excelled as a 3-4 end and will be in for a learning curve as a rookie.
Yet the Jets continue to remain optimistic. Nose tackle Sione Pouha told Metro New York that the defense “understands things now [and] is comfortable now that we’ve been in it so long.” Ryan points to the understanding of the defense that has taken place over the last four years as a reason why there will be improvement.
“I think the communication is so much better now and it should be. It’s your fourth year. We do have some new guys in there. Yeremiah Bell has stepped in and done a tremendous job. I think you see more from Eric Smith being more of a vocal leader,” Ryan said. “Bart Scott, David Harris, now being in their fourth year there together. DeVito, [Pouha], all these guys; it’s where we want it to be. The corners, when I first got here, would always look at the safeties, would look at [former Jets safety] Jim Leonhard, and Jim would set the whole defense. Now, they’re looking at the safeties and letting them know what they want to do. And I think that’s where this defense has progressed to.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for all your offseason news from Gang Green.