CORTLAND – Rex Ryan walked into the small press conference room, took his post behind the lectern and exhaled.
“Well, I don’t know where to begin,” the Jets coach said in jest, adding a little levity on a day that was interrupted by more name-calling, shoving and thrown punches.
Having reached his boiling point for outright disrespect and in-fighting – following Monday’s sideline brawl – Ryan stopped practice Tuesday morning. He angrily barked at players to run 10 or so gassers, up and down the width of the practice field. It was the final straw and further evidence that Ryan had had enough.
The first dust-up occurred between rookies Demario Davis (linebacker) and Terrance Ganaway (running back) during a “thud” period, in which defensive players are supposed to wrap up the ball carrier before letting him go. But Ryan said Ganaway tried to “run through” Davis.
“That’s not what you’re looking for,” the coach said. “That’s not being physical. To me, that’s being selfish.”
Ryan immediately stopped practice and pulled his guys near an end zone to issue a warning about the fine line between playing physical and protecting fellow teammates.
The message, however, was not received by one Jet in particular: cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
During 7-on-7 drills, Cromartie was extra physical with rookie Stephen Hill and even held the wide receiver. Soon after, the chatty cornerback hit tight end Dustin Keller. The pair immediately traded fisticuffs, prompting Ryan to break up practice and order gassers.
It was the first time Ryan has ever halted practice in order to dole out team punishment – but the coach said he had no issue doing so.
“I just wanted them to know how serious I am about it,” said Ryan. “And I also wanted to run’em until I was tired. I’m doing my job. My job’s to get this team ready to go, and to be the team that I envision having. And we’re going to.”
Several Jets confirmed Ryan’s message was received loud and clear.
“Yeah, definitely,” Eric Smith said. “We got it.”
The veteran safety said guys can’t help but be mad at teammates responsible for group punishments, but, he added: “We’re a team. We’ve always got the other guys’ backs. So if we have to run, we have to run.”
Though Santonio Holmes likely won’t play in Friday’s preseason game in Cincinnati due to a rib injury, the wide receiver said the game can’t come soon enough for him and his teammates.
“We’re ready to hit somebody else,” he said.
Davis agreed, adding that, despite the mounting tension in practice, the Jets still view themselves as “brothers” and the scuffles are nothing personal.
Ryan said in a statement Monday that he didn’t consider yesterday’s brawl, which began as an altercation between running back Joe McKnight and safety D’Anton Lynn, to be a “melee” per se. But he quickly pointed out that he was disappointed in McKnight for firing the football at Lynn’s head during the skirmish.
“A guy throwing the football – we don’t need that,” Ryan said. “Because that’s going to hurt your team.”
Hill dismissed the idea that the Jets are an unruly group with an aloof head coach who has lost control.
“Coach (Ryan) is a good players’ coach," the rookie said. “He’s out here doing a great job, keeping us in line. We don’t want to have (people) saying that we’re undisciplined, because we’re not undisciplined, we’re just out here at camp. There’s fires going up, and were just kind of tired of playing each other, but other than that we’re in line.”
Ryan stressed that his decision to stop practice wasn’t directly related to Cromartie – but rather, it was an opportunity to address the general “chippiness and things” over the past two days. “It was just time to do it,” he said. “And I think that’ll remind them.”
To Ryan, the aggression and cheap shots seen this week in practice is a byproduct of Saturday’s scrimmage – the closest thing to a meaningful game the Jets have had since January. And like his players, the head coach is anxious to get on the field in a real game, against a real opponent.
On Friday, he and his players will bond together against a common “enemy”: the Bengals.
“I think sometimes you’re trying to be physical,” Ryan said. “But being physical is one thing. Going past that, is something else. And that’s what I didn’t like. That’s why we stopped and had to remind guys that the enemy is not in green and white.”
Ryan did, however, make it a point to say the fights that have occurred the past two days have been “mild” compared to what went on during his first year as head coach.