Jet propulsion: Ryan has bold flight plan

INDIANAPOLIS — INDIANAPOLIS - Rex Ryan never met a quarterback he didn't think he could rattle. Never faced an offense he didn't believe he could confuse. Never drew up a blitz he wasn't confident would work.

The new coach of the New York Jets is no introvert.


Ask him about playing in the AFC East and he doesn't give you a politically correct answer.

"I'd rather focus on what they're up against," Ryan said yesterday, addressing the national media during the NFL scouting combine. "We're going to have a team that's a physical football team. We're not going to back down from any challenge."


Ryan eventually got around to paying homage to the division's heavyweights - coach Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots and executive Bill Parcells with the Miami Dolphins - and even the Buffalo Bills.

But there is no mistaking the tone Ryan, 46, has set in less than a month with the Jets.

We're here. Deal with it.

A year ago, Ryan swallowed his pride and decided to return to the Ravens for a 10th season, his fourth as defensive coordinator.

He lost out to John Harbaugh for the head coaching job, and yes, he said yesterday, he felt sorry for himself.

"At the end of the day, I was staying in a place I really love, Baltimore," he said. "I had already built respect and earned that respect. We had built something special.

"My role ... was really just to be defensive coordinator. Maybe it was just tough for people to see me in a different role."

His role in New York is super-sized. Ryan inherits a team that faded badly down the stretch, missed the playoffs and fired its coach, Eric Mangini. His first news conference in the Big Apple raised expectations.


Yesterday, he didn't back off an inch.

How long will it take to get the Jets' defense up to the Ravens' speed?

"I think next year, if we bring in the kind of players we're talking about," he said. "We only need to add one or two guys. The foundation's already there. I think that maybe the mentality we're going to play with, the style we're going to play, is going to help the guys we already have.

"But I'm not one to shy away from expectations. I think we're going to be terrific, and I think we're going to have a defense our fans can be proud of."

The one or two additions might - or might not - include a player or two from his Baltimore defense. Ray Lewis, you ask?

"Right now, I'd rather [keep] our draft picks," Ryan said. "I'd rather not talk about any potential free agent out there, with the tampering rules. ... So I'll avoid that question."


Seconds later, another reporter asked about his interest in Ravens safety Jim Leonhard, who, like Lewis, will become a free agent Friday.

"Let me hit the rewind button, if you don't mind," he said, to laughter. "Again, I'd like to keep our draft picks."

There are indications the Jets could be in the market for an inside linebacker from the Ravens. This week they released veteran backups David Bowers and Brad Kassell, leaving only one experienced inside linebacker under contract - David Harris.

The Ravens have a week to conclude negotiations with Lewis or risk losing him to the Jets. Ryan could also pick off Bart Scott, the third Ravens linebacker whose contract has expired.

Now that he has hired his staff - one that includes former Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh as quarterbacks coach - Ryan must install his defense, pick a quarterback from Kellen Clemens, Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge, and upgrade his roster.

The prototype college player he's looking for here is the same kind of player he had with the Ravens.


"I just want guys I think can represent our football team and play like a Jet," he said. "That's going to mean something. It's going to mean they're physical, tough, passionate-type people. We always tried to build our defense that way in Baltimore. We're going to try to build our team that way with the Jets."

Ryan lost out to Harbaugh a year ago but was better for having served as assistant head coach.

"I can't tell you how much I gained, and not just with John," he said. "I knew he's a great leader, a natural leader. The thing that was great for me was that he said we were going to do this thing and we were going to accomplish it shoulder-to-shoulder. And in all the decisions, I sat right there with him."