Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Coaching updates

After making a few additions and subtractions over the past few days, the Jets just officially announced their latest changes. First and foremost, Bob Sutton, who had served as defensive coordinator for the past three years has been retained by Rex Ryan. His new title is senior defensive assistant/linebackers.

Prior to becoming the Jets defensive coordinator in 2006, Sutton had been the linebackers coach for the Jets since 2000 when he was hired by then head coach Al Groh. The new defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, was the linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens so it will be interesting to see how this new distribution of responsibilities plays out.

Sutton is both well-liked and well-respected by his players and other coaches both within the team and around the league so in my opinion keeping him is a good move on the part of Ryan and Pettine.

Also added to the coaching staff were Henry Ellard who takes over from Noel Mazzone as Wide Receivers Coach, Anthony Lynn who replaces Jimmy Raye as running backs coach (and who the Jets picked up from the Cleveland Browns), Dennis Thurman as Secondary Coach and Doug Plank as Assistant Secondary Coach.

Ellard was a second-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Rams in 1983 and had a 16-year career as a wide receiver. He spent the last eight seasons coaching receivers with the Rams.

Lynn played running back with the Denver Broncos during two of their Super Bowl championship seasons and has been a running backs coach for the past six years.

Dennis Thurman coached under Rex Ryan at the Ravens for the past seven years and played defensive back in the NFL for nine seasons for the Dallas Cowboys and the then-Phoenix Cardinals.

Plank is a two-time coach-of-the-year in the Arena Football League where he was the head coach of the Georgia Force. He also played safety for the Chicago Bears under Rex Ryan's father Buddy. Plank was a coaching assistant this past season for the Atlanta Falcons.

What happened to Mike Nugent?

I got a great question from Kevin regarding the situation with Mike Nugent this year. As you may recall, Nugent was injured on opening day and didn't play the rest of the season. Mangini continually listed his injury as "thigh." I was able to find out the specifics of the injury, which was that he had a strained quad muscle. This is a dangerous injury for a kicker because if it is not allowed to fully heal the muscle can tear and put the player on the bench for as much as two years. It ultimately took Nugent in the neighborhood of six or seven weeks to heal the injury and then additional time to get game-ready. After that, he was what is called a "healthy scratch" while Jay Feely continued to serve as the Jets placekicker.

The cloak-and-dagger thing with the injury report aside, continuing to play Feely was an interesting choice. Most coaches are loathe to bench a "hot" kicker, however, while Feely was steady and consistent his numbers were more on the average side. Overall, my hunch is that the team felt more comfortable sticking with Feely then taking a chance on Nugent not actually being ready.

My new friend Kevin also brought up the point that the Jets seemed to get through the season fairly healthy overall. Well, yes if you overlook that several of their best players played hurt for all or most of the season - Brett Favre, Laveranues Coles and Kris Jenkins, among them. However, it is true that there weren't a lot of guys with extended problems or ending up on injured reserve. Not sure if you can attribute this to anything specific or just to a stretch of good luck. Personally it is always a relief not to repeat a season like 2005 where at the end of the year there were still guys showing up in the locker room who were complete strangers to me. (And to some of their teammates!)

The Jets strength and conditioning coach is Sal Alosi who is highly-respected around the league so I would think that having someone like that on staff would certainly have some impact. The new facility is completely state-of-the art so both of those things are definitely something to consider.

By the way - Nugent's contract officially expired at the end of the last game so I am keeping my ear to the ground trying to find out what the Jets plan to do about him. As a former second round pick, he might be expensive to keep around...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ryan Brings in Pettine

With the new sheriff officially in town, it's time to address the rest of the New York Jets' 2009 staff. Rex Ryan's first move was to install Mike Pettine as the defensive coordinator (the status of Bob Sutton, the Jets' previous DC and the linebackers coach before that, is still TBA). Pettine was the linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens under Ryan and the two seem to be thick as thieves.

I had a chance to meet the 42-year-old Pettine along with Ryan last week and liked him right away. Like Ryan, he seemed both intensely focused and laid back all at the same time. He also took a slightly different path to the NFL than most do. After playing safety at the University of Virginia, he made a brief stop as a graduate assistant at Pitt, before becoming a high school coach and then jumping to the Ravens. In addition, he, like Ryan, has an interesting pedigree.

Pettine's father is Mike Pettine, Sr. the storied coach from Central Bucks West High School in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (located about halfway between Philadelphia and Allentown). Pettine, Sr. set records with his four state championships and a 326-42-4 record compiled between 1967 and 1999 when he retired. He also holds the longest winning streak in Pennsylvania high school football history with 59. In fact, a movie was made about Pettine called The Last Game, which I plan to look for at my local video store as soon as I have a minute.

So, along with the fact the the Jets have retained Brian Schottenheimer (son of former player and coach Marty Schottenheimer) as their offensive coordinator, and have retained Mike Westhoff on special teams, arguably one of the greatest special teams coaches the NFL has ever had, there is quite a gene pool on display - and you would think that expectations are mounting by the minute.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rex Ryan's on Board

Now that I got some of last season off my chest, we can move on to what's happening with the team now.

Rex Ryan was brought on board last week to replace Eric Mangini who was fired within hours (and possibly minutes) after the team's final loss to the Miami Dolphins. My first impression was a very cliched "Wow, what a breath of fresh air."

Ryan, who spent the last 10 seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, took command from the moment he was introduced in front of the media, members of the organization and about a dozen players. The new head coach appeared completely at ease and opened with an allusion to the fact that the Jets would win a Super Bowl in the next couple of years.

With a lot of energy and a lot of humor he gave a brief glimpse into both his personality and philosophy - something he entertainingly referred to as KILL. Keep It Likeable and Learnable. Sounded good to me and from the looks on the faces of the players in the room, it sounded good to them too.

For those of you who don't already know, Ryan brings quite a pedigree with him to his new team. His father is the legendary Buddy Ryan, who created the 46 defense that sent the 1985 Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl. Although not as successful as a head coach, Buddy will go down as one of the greatest defensive minds in NFL history. In a strange twist, Rex's twin brother Rob just signed on as Eric Mangini's defensive coordinator for the 2009 season. I'll be keeping an eye on that!

But back to Rex. Following his opening press conference, he held a private meeting with beat reporters so that we could all get to know each other a little better. From everything I saw that day, he's the real deal. He was pleasant, funny, articulate and relaxed. He appeared perfectly happy to be hanging out with us and getting to know us and letting us get to know him. The best description of him came from either Woody Johnson or Mike Tannenbaum (I can't remember which one) who said "Rex is very comfortable in his own skin."

Obviously he hasn't coached a down here yet, but if he is who he appears to be, Jets fan should be very excited.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why didn't the Jets make the playoffs? I tell you here.

To kick things off here, as we look forward to the Cardinals/Steelers Super Bowl next week, I'm going to take a quick look back at the end of the New York Jets 2008 season.

I've spent the last three of my nine years covering the Jets attempting to glean the simplest of stories out of the locker room, where information under Head Coach Eric Mangini was guarded as if our national security depended upon it. However, along the way, I was able to uncover several very significant stories and I will share the most significant one with you now, which I first broke on my Sirius NFL Radio segment back in December.

For those of you who watched in horror, dismay and utter confusion as the Jets 2008 season unraveled at light-speed I can tell you the reason. It's actually a bit unusual for there to be one specific reason that a team either can't get it together or falls apart (barring, of course something like a season-ending injury to the starting quarterback). That said, it was actually quite simple in 2008.

Following the Jets' home loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 13, Head Coach Eric Mangini panicked. I have this on good authority from numerous (and by numerous I mean more than a half-dozen) players as well as two very highly-placed team officials. He immediately threw out the defensive schemes that the team had used all season long and implemented a new set. This put the players in complete and total disarray. They shared their discomfort openly with their position coaches and Mangini.

Since his arrival in New York, Mangini had insisted that his door was always open to both coaches and players to share their thoughts and opinions on everything that was going on and that he would do his best to accommodate their various requests and suggestions.

So why then, when the players asked the coach to return to the schemes that they were comfortable running (and that they had compiled a winning record with) did he refuse? That part may never be known.

In addition, Mangini began to put his hands on Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's offense, adding insult to injury.

Speaking of injuries, there were two significant ones that, to be completely fair, cannot be overlooked. Nose tackle Kris Jenkins was struggling with both back and hip problems and Brett Favre it turned out, had a biceps injury in his throwing arm.

That being said, you have to wonder what might have been had Mangini remained "consistent" (his war cry from day one on the job), had not allowed himself to get so rattled by one bad loss, and had respected his players and coaches enough to trust them so that they could move forward with what had already proven to be successful.