Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley catches a ball during practice...

Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley catches a ball during practice at the Atlantic Health Training Facility. (June 7, 2012) Credit: Joe Epstein

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Even when it was clear that Vernon Gholston had overstayed his welcome among fans, Rex Ryan continued to rave about the defensive end's improvement.

When Wayne Hunter's turnstile blocking ability left Mark Sanchez in a crumpled heap on Sundays, Ryan still boasted that the right tackle could start for any team in the league.

But Saturday, Ryan criticized one of his young talents, Jeremy Kerley, who had 29 receptions for 314 yards and a touchdown in 14 games for the Jets last season.

"Jeremy needs to step it up. 'Cause quite honestly, I was a little disappointed in Jeremy in the offseason," Ryan said. "He's got to pick up this new system. You've got to put the time in it."

Kerley, 23, who was hobbled by a hamstring injury during minicamp, again has "a little bit of a hamstring" issue and could miss a week of practice. Worse yet: He could lose his slot receiver job if he doesn't improve, Ryan said.

And the coach already has a viable replacement in mind -- a guy by the name of Holmes.

"Well, Santonio clearly can be a slot receiver," he said. "You can put Tone anywhere. He can do it. And we've got guys pushing for those things."

Physical effort has never been an issue for the wideout, said Ryan, who cited Kerley's routine of catching 250 balls and 100 punts a day. "Jeremy's one of the hardest-working guys I've seen," he insisted.

Kerley has all the tools of a quality slot receiver, he said -- toughness, ability to catch the ball and an "unusual change of direction." That's why he hopes Kerley doesn't force his hand to make a change.

Said Ryan: "Clearly, you want Jeremy to be that guy."

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