New York Jets players, from left, Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas,...

New York Jets players, from left, Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, David Harris and Darrelle Revis sit on bins and take a break from practice. (Aug. 2, 2011) Credit: AP

It’s hard to be too apologetic about a defense that ranked third in the NFL last season, but that wasn’t good enough for Jets coach Rex Ryan.

He said as much on Monday, and on Tuesday, Ryan further elaborated on what the team needs to do to get even better on the defensive side of the ball this season.

“We’ve got to tighten things up,” Ryan said. “We looked hard in the offseason into what we’re doing defensively. Obviously we’ll be creative and those things have been kind of a trademark for us. … We’ll find ways.”

After leading the NFL with only 236 points allowed in 2009, the Jets were sixth in the league in that category last season (304 points) and below average in passing touchdowns allowed (24), yards per completion and interceptions. Those numbers point to the pass rushing, where the team had no one with more than six sacks.

Ryan denied the notion that the team was slacking up front, even after the addition of two defensive linemen with its first picks of this year’s draft.

“I don’t think we were as bad as maybe people want to look at,” Ryan said. “We never had the guy with 10 or 12 sacks, but we had a lot of guys with sacks. We were eighth in the league last year in number of sacks. I don’t think we’re as desperate as is out there.”

One of those rookies, first-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson out of Temple, has already been slotted in the starting defensive end spot — at least until a decision is made on veteran Shaun Ellis’ contract — and has been making an impact, Ryan said.

“That’s why we drafted him, not to be a backup,” Ryan said. “We need him to be a player.”

For the Jets to improve defensively, they will have to make the most of the reduced practice time in training camp. The new CBA eliminates two-a-days and limits the number of allowable practices with pads and helmets.

Neither Ryan nor the players believed that will be a big problem.

“We’re led by Rex Ryan — he’s going to get our most physical play once it’s game time,” linebacker David Harris said. “When it’s live, we know when it’s time to go.”

Early talk this preseason has focused mostly on the Jets’ offense — the re-signing of Santonio Holmes, the addition of wide receiver Plaxico Burress, the hiring of offensive guru Tom Moore, the vague promise by Ryan in phone messages to fans about “airing it out” more this year.

But Ryan knows the identity of this team revolves around its defensive playmaking.

“We just have to limit the mistakes that we can control,” Harris said. “Last year we had too many mental breakdowns in certain areas, gave up too many touchdowns. We’re not satisfied.”

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