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Jets' three quarterbacks focused on winning starting job, not rumors

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Kellen Clemens is aware of all the critics who insist the New York Jets can't expect to win if they enter the 2009 season with him, Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge as their only quarterbacks.

"It's the end of the world, right?" Clemens said with a laugh Thursday. "I've heard it. Truth be told, I try not to listen to it, but some of it always leaks through. You've got a buddy back home who calls and says, 'Hey! ESPN just said, dah dah dah.'"

Most of the chatter surrounds the Jets' reported interest in Jay Cutler -- if the Denver Broncos decide to trade the disgruntled Pro Bowl quarterback, as he requested, after a rift with new coach Josh McDaniels.

"It's an interesting thing preparing to try to be a major contributor to a football team and there's always all the rumors that are floating around and, at times, can be distracting," Clemens said. "I'm not going to lie. I've heard about them, and it wasn't something where I was like, 'Oh, good. Jay'd be here. That would be great. We can hang out.' You try to ignore it."

Several teams, including the Jets, have contacted the Broncos about Cutler's availability, even though McDaniels reiterated at the NFL Annual Meeting earlier this week that Cutler is his quarterback and he'll do what he can to improve the relationship.

Meanwhile, new Jets coach Rex Ryan has told anyone who'll listen that he's comfortable with the quarterbacks he has on his roster and they'll all have a fair chance to win the job this summer.

"Everyone seems to think we have major issues there," Ryan said at the NFL Annual Meeting. "I don't think the situation is what people think it is. I think we're going to be just fine."

But fueling the speculation that New York perhaps isn't completely sold on the trio is the fact that the Jets, who have the 17th overall pick next month, scheduled workouts with Kansas State's Josh Freeman and USC's Mark Sanchez.

"It certainly is a motivating thing to think myself and the other two guys in the locker room playing the position are getting overlooked in some ways," Clemens said.

Clemens has been through all this before -- a year ago. A second-round draft pick in 2006, Clemens became the starter in place of an ineffective Chad Pennington the following season and was shaky, throwing 10 interceptions and five touchdowns. The two went into last summer competing for the job -- and then Brett Favre came along.

Pennington was sent packing, and Clemens was back on the sideline with a cap and a clipboard.

"I'm more prepared now than I was two years ago when I first started playing," Clemens said. "I've now had the opportunity to sit back and watch one of the greatest to ever play the game last year go through everything that he had to go through."

When Favre retired last month, it appeared to set the stage for the three-way competition -- until the Cutler rumors began swirling.

"I believe that if I'm under center, we have playoff potential," Clemens said. "Yes, absolutely."

Then, he was asked if he could issue a guarantee.

"I'm not going to pull a Namath just yet," he said with a big grin.

Ryan has said that half the organization is pulling for Clemens, while the others are rooting for Ratliff, who hasn't thrown a pass in a regular-season game. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Utah in 2007, Ratliff opened eyes last preseason, when he led the league with a 122.5 passer rating.

"My goal is to be a starting quarterback," Ratliff said. "That's been my dream ever since I was a young kid. Whatever my job is -- if it's pushing Kellen or it's being the starting quarterback -- I'm going to approach it the same way everyday, have fun with it and just be myself."

Ratliff has an extremely strong arm, as evidenced by his touchdown tosses of 70 and 71 yards last summer, and he has come a long way from being a practice-squad player two years ago.

"If I want to be a starting quarterback in this league, there's definitely going to be expectations, and I'm ready for that," Ratliff said. "I feel like I can come in and be a player and a leader for the guys who are here."

Ainge was a fifth-round pick last year after having an impressive career at Tennessee, but he was beset by injuries and a suspension for violating the NFL's policy on steroids and related substances.

"I feel healthy for the first time in a long time," Ainge said. "I feel healthy and I feel confident."

While considered a long shot to win the starting job, Ainge has impressive credentials. He ranks third in Tennessee history behind Peyton Manning and Casey Clausen with 8,700 passing yards.

"I feel like I have a great shot," Ainge said. "Obviously, you can't give three quarterbacks equal reps. I'll have to fight, scratch and take advantage of every opportunity that I get."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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