Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
If this is a make-or-break year for Rex Ryan, the fifth-year coach certainly didn't look like a guy who knew this might be his last training camp with the Jets.
There was his wide smile as he sauntered to a spot in front of the dormitory he'll call home for three weeks, chatting up reporters on Day 1 of camp. And there was the self-deprecating joke to open the impromptu news conference.
"Hold off, let me bail,'' Ryan said Thursday, moving to his right to imitate the move to save his hide when he ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, this month. "I got a bad rap for that,'' he said. "I'll tell you what, when I saw that 1,500-pound bull, it was time for me to leave.''
Same Rex. Same demeanor. Same confidence. Even if his team has little chance of making a serious playoff run and guaranteeing he'll be back next year. With plenty of fresh faces -- or no-name prospects, take your choice -- and only a handful of established veterans, Ryan can't keep up with the Ravens, Patriots, Broncos or any of the AFC's other legitimate contenders.
And his choices at quarterback don't leave much room for optimism in the short term. It will be either Mark Sanchez, who has 52 turnovers the last two seasons and is back mostly because the Jets owe him $8.25 million in guaranteed salary, or rookie Geno Smith, who will take the field for the first time Friday in an NFL training camp. The future may look bright for Smith, but the present is far less certain.
It will be the Jets' first open competition at quarterback since Sanchez won the starting job over Kellen Clemens as a rookie in 2009. But Sanchez was working then with a more experienced offense and a defense that was among the NFL's best. Now? Not so much.
"The big thing is to make sure there's fair competition and you feel good about the decision,'' Ryan said. "I will lean on several other people, but it has to be the right decision.''
Whoever wins this year's training camp battle will have unproven running backs behind him, an uncertain line in front of him and a receiving corps that may or may not have Santonio Holmes, still out with a foot injury. Braylon Edwards is back for a third time and offers backup help, but he's not the same receiver he was in 2009-10.
The defense is also in transition, although I'd argue that Ryan has a promising group on that side of the ball, even without Darrelle Revis. Antonio Cromartie is a legitimate No. 1 cornerback. Kyle Wilson showed improvement in Revis' absence last year. And once Dee Milliner gets into camp (he was unsigned as of late Thursday) and fully recovers from offseason surgery, he'll become a big-time corner.
The front seven featuring first-round picks Mo Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and rookie Sheldon Richardson is a major strength, and David Harris is hopeful of returning to form after a bad season.
So the formula will go pretty much like this: Play great defense, and don't mess it up on offense. The first part is a reasonable goal, the second one is much tougher. If Sanchez wins the job and remains a turnover machine, then it's more of the same. And if Smith starts, bring on the rookie growing pains.
Ryan remains undeterred, which is easy when you haven't lost a game. When I asked if he felt he faced a win-or-else situation this season, Ryan demurred.
"It's no different than the past years, although there are a lot of new faces, new coaches,'' he said. "That's different, but man, I am excited to be here.''
He doesn't want to be anywhere else.
"I've always been a passionate guy,'' Ryan said. "I love coaching. I love this opportunity. I understand I'm one of 32 guys. I'm the head coach of the team I want to be the head coach for, and that's the New York Jets.''
How much longer he keeps that job remains to be seen. General manager John Idzik walked into the rare and potentially awkward position of inheriting a head coach. And you won't find many coaches returning after missing the playoffs for three consecutive years, which will be the case if the Jets miss out on the postseason again.
But Ryan certainly doesn't look, sound or act worried.
"I'm in it to win it,'' he said. "Shoot, my goals are set different than job security. I never took this job for security. I would have gone into a different line of work had that been the case. I'm in it for the competition.''
Rex being Rex, he isn't consumed about his future. With the team he's now coaching, that's probably a good thing.