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Dennis Thurman adapts to new role as defensive coordinator

Dennis Thurman looks on during a game against

Dennis Thurman looks on during a game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Credit: AP, 2010

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Dennis Thurman scans the practice field, soaking in the sea of dark green jerseys that fall under his watch.

This season comes with new challenges and more responsibility for the Jets' first-year defensive coordinator. But there's one adjustment the former secondary coach admits he didn't see coming.

Thurman, a "tell it like it is'' guy, helped shape future Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott while they played together at USC and had a hand in developing Darrelle Revis. Now Thurman finds himself a bystander in many respects.

"Walking around practice with nothing to do,'' he said with a smile last week during a sitdown at the Jets' facility before the start of rookie minicamp. "I find that when guys are working with their individual groups, I'm just walking around with my hands in my pockets. I used to have things to do. Now I'm trying to find something to do. That's different for me.''

Following Day 2 of rookie minicamp, Rex Ryan made sure there was no confusion as to who is "running'' the defense in 2013. Ryan, seen by many as a lame-duck coach heading into his fifth year, said he'll run all of the walk-throughs, install all of the defenses and do all of the defensive play-calling during the season, just as he did in his first two years as Jets coach.

"I do my best down there on defense,'' Ryan said.

Former coordinator Mike Pettine bolted to assume that role for the Bills, in an attempt to prove his defense can stand on its own without Ryan. But after spending six years coaching alongside Ryan in Baltimore, Thurman said he's not bothered by the assumption that Ryan is the dictator on defense.

"This defense is part Rex's dad [Buddy], this defense is part Marvin Lewis, this defense is part Mike Nolan, this defense is part Rex Ryan. It's a combination of a lot of things,'' Thurman said. "But his ability to teach it, his ability to get the techniques the way he wants, the fundamentals the way he wants them, the way he can get the group as a whole to learn the entire defense -- I have the utmost respect for Rex in that regard. To hear that, it's not a big deal to me.''

For the first time as a coach, Thurman is focused on all three defensive groups rather than only the secondary. That leaves no time to worry about Ryan getting more of the spotlight.

"This is Rex Ryan's team, because he's the head coach,'' said Thurman, who played eight of his nine NFL seasons as a defensive back with the Cowboys.

"So it's not a big deal to me. When you really sit back and think about the head coaches that call games, be it an offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator, everybody gets the credit if you win. You don't worry about getting credit, you worry about winning football games. And that's what our job is.''

Occasionally, though, Thurman gets to show off his arm. With new secondary coach Tim McDonald nursing a slight wrist injury, someone has to throw the football during position drills.

"So he still has some things to do,'' McDonald quipped.

Said Thurman: "Yeah, they use me. I throw the ball. And that's very different for me.''

New York Sports