|Scott (57), Ryan's free-agent priority, brings the style and 'tude of Baltimore's D.
13 at Houston
20 NEW ENGLAND
4 at New Orleans
12 at Miami (Mon.)
25 at Oakland
22 at New England
3 at Buffalo (Thur.)
13 at Tampa Bay
27 at Indianapolis
Leon Washington, Running back: Despite his displeasure with a contract that would pay him $535,000
this season, the Jets' fourth-year all-purpose back showed up on time for
training camp and immediately began dazzling the new staff with his diverse
skills. "He's Mr. Excitement," says coach Rex Ryan of the 5' 8", 195-pound
Washington. "Every time I look over at him, he's doing something impressive. He
can run. He's great catching the ball out of the backfield or lined up as a
receiver. He's about as good a kick returner as there is in this league."
Washington's ability to turn screens into big plays and score on kickoffs
(he was All-Pro as a return man last year) will help an offense that might not
have much of a vertical passing game. But some question his durability as an
every-down back. He had 151 carries as a rookie in 2006 but only 147 over
the last two seasons combined. "I'd love to touch the ball more from
scrimmage," Washington says. "I can help this team in so many ways. I truly
believe once I'm in the open field, there's no one in this league that can
Washington and the Jets were still haggling over a contract extension in late
August, but he said he wouldn't let the issue affect his performance. In any
event, he has clearly earned his new coach's respect. "He's a tough little
dude," Ryan says. "There are very few Leon Washingtons out there."
This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
The Rex Ryan era begins -- and it's no surprise that the tone will be set by a swarming, stifling, run-stopping defense.
While the headlines in New York this summer focused on the battle
between fourth-year quarterback Kellen Clemens and rookie Mark Sanchez, the
Jets' identity will have little to do with their passing game. "When I picture
the team I want, it's tough and physical, it can stop the run and it can run the
ball," new coach Rex Ryan says. "If it turns out the strength of our team is
defense and we're not throwing the ball all over the place, that's great. That
means we'll be in every game."
The formula worked well for the 10 years that Ryan was a defensive coach in
Baltimore, and it's well-suited to the personnel in New York. While the Jets
have little experience at quarterback or wide receiver, the running game is
solid, with Pro Bowl pick Thomas Jones and third-down back Leon Washington
working behind an experienced offensive line. The defense also has proven
talent, but to kick it up to Ravens level, the team brought in three of Ryan's
former players: inside linebacker Bart Scott, strong safety Jim Leonhard and
defensive end Marques Douglas.
Ryan made the acquisition of the 29-year-old Scott a top priority because his
skill set -- fast to the quarterback, hard-hitting, good in coverage -- fits Ryan's
multiple-look defense. Scott also brings a familiarity with Ryan's system and
plenty of attitude. "A lot of times players from Baltimore go to other teams and
know just as much about defense as the coordinators," he says. "I didn't want to
have that. I didn't want to go to a Tampa Two, bend-don't-break defense and be
bored to death. I know what good defense looks like, and we're developing it
While less outspoken than Scott, the 5' 8", 186-pound Leonhard is also
being counted on to relate the principles of Baltimore's scheme. An undrafted
free agent out of Wisconsin in 2005, Leonhard is a classic Ryan player, a guy
who might not have looked to be NFL-caliber but who produces because of his
intelligence and aggressiveness. Leonhard credits Ravens All-Pro safety Ed Reed
with teaching him how to use deception to confuse quarterbacks, and he hopes to
duplicate Reed's penchant for big plays. "We're going to attack," Leonhard says.
"We're not going to put everything on our offense to set the tempo and take
control of the game. We're going to be disappointed if we don't come up with
points on a regular basis."
Jets defenders spent significant time working on their blocking patterns
during camp to make sure they take advantage of turnovers. If the defensive
front can apply sufficient pressure, the backfield of Leonhard, former All-Pro
safety Kerry Rhodes, Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis and rejuvenated onetime
Eagles corner Lito Sheppard expects easy pickings. "The ball is going to get out
quick or the quarterback is going down," Rhodes says. "We expect to get a lot of
interceptions this year. That's why we practice that silly wall-blocking
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, formerly Baltimore's linebackers coach,
is focused on creating a ferocious pass rush. A Philadelphia-area native,
Pettine grew up admiring Ryan's father, Buddy, for his singleness of purpose
when it came to harassing QBs. "If you want to kill something, you gotta cut off
the head," Pettine says. "There are instances where we're willing to give up
some yards to get a hit on the quarterback. That's a body punch. Maybe that'll
pay dividends later in the game."
The defense outplayed the offense steadily throughout training camp, but to
re-create a Ravens-like intensity in one season won't be easy. "The Jets have
similar talent," Scott says. "A little bit younger, a little more raw. The thing
Baltimore had was tradition. We're going to need to lean on each other to create
that. If we do, watch out."
-- Andrew Perloff