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Rex Ryan totally confident as Jets prepare to start season

New York Jets' head coach Rex Ryan talks

New York Jets' head coach Rex Ryan talks with reporters after training camp in Cortland, N.Y., Friday, Aug.1, 2014. Credit: Hans Pennink

Rex Ryan doesn't see what all the fuss is about.

Sure, he had a cornerback go AWOL, leading to his release. And yes, he had two young defensive backs go down with injuries in training camp. It's also unclear how quickly Antonio Allen -- the safety he converted to cornerback in order to plug the glaring holes in his secondary -- will recover from a concussion.

But is Ryan concerned? No, no, no. That's far too harsh a word, he said.

"I think when our guys get out there," the Jets coach said, "I think we'll be fine."

He's a defensive guru for a reason. But will a more experienced quarterback in Geno Smith and a reworked offense translate into more wins?

Naturally, Ryan is betting it will.

The Jets finished 8-8 with Smith leading the offense as a rookie last season. And with the additions of receiver Eric Decker, running back Chris Johnson and backup quarterback Michael Vick, the offense could turn heads in 2014.

"Hopefully, they'll be Jets for a long time,'' Vick said of Decker and Johnson. "Their production will be evident . . . I'm looking forward to watching them, and I love to work with them every day. They just don't know how much better they make me and the players around them.''

The front seven on defense, however, is the star attraction on this roster.

Sheldon Richardson, the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year, isn't at all worried about a sophomore slump. Muhammad Wilkerson -- a Pro Bowl alternate last season with a team-high 10 1/2 sacks -- is determined to prove he's been overlooked far too long.

Not to mention that veteran outside linebacker Calvin Pace is coming off a 10-sack season and the pairing of Quinton Coples and Jason Babin could yield positive results.

The strength of Ryan's defense rests in his front seven. And that means the unit will have to make up for the deficiencies of his secondary.

Last season, the Jets ranked 22nd in pass defense (246.7 yards per game) and surrendered 15 pass plays of at least 40 yards -- the fourth-highest total in the NFL. And now they're relying on recent waiver claim pick-up Leon McFadden and a player who was previously designated as a backup (Darrin Walls) to stop Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning, among others.

Ryan, however, prefers to focus on the positives. Just last week, he said the Jets are "right where we need to be."

The biggest cause for optimism, he said, is Smith's development. And although the preseason might not prove much, it's a promising sign for the offense that he wasn't sacked. But Smith still needs to prove he can be a franchise quarterback.

"We have a chance to go out and prove exactly how much we have gotten better as a team,'' he said. "Personally, just to see how much I have gotten better, I felt the difference in Year 2. A lot of that is the result of hard work, but it is yet to be seen.''

The expectations for Smith are much higher. And the same can be said for general manager John Idzik. During the offseason, the Jets cut ties with Antonio Cromartie, refused to revisit a Darrelle Revis reunion and drew a financial line in the sand with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Instead, they signed injury-prone Dimitri Patterson to a one-year, $3-million deal -- and he was released after he went AWOL for 48 hours and publicly contradicted the organization about the situation. Meanwhile, Revis signed with the rival Patriots and Rodgers-Cromartie signed with the Giants.

But rather than focus on what could have been, Ryan is anxious to see what his cornerbacks have in store this season. "Oh, no question about it,'' he said. "I understand where everybody's coming from with all the injury questions . . . But when this thing gets kicked off for real, we absolutely have no excuses. We'll line up and play. We feel good about the players that we do have.

"Shoot, the great thing is we get to prove it, and it starts on Sunday in front of our home crowd. So we'll all get to see it. It'll be up close and personal. And I have no problem with that. I feel great about where we're at right now as a football team."

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