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Rex Ryan facing long odds in must-win year with New York Jets


PHOENIX -- He might be coaching for his job with a spotty roster, a franchise player who could be traded and a quarterback situation that inspires little faith.

He's on his third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, and he's watched an exodus of free agents over the past nine days while his new general manager shops clearance racks.

No wonder Rex Ryan, when he really wants to blow off steam these days, turns to kickboxing and hot yoga. Seriously.

Is anyone else starting to feel like the chips are stacked against Ryan? That the guy who loves to talk big is suddenly facing long odds in what seems like a must-win year?

For the record, Ryan is having none of that.

"There's no way anybody's going to feel bad for me," Ryan said. "And they shouldn't. They absolutely shouldn't."

Ryan's bluster isn't gone, but it's been muted. We saw that at the NFL Annual Meeting, which concluded Wednesday.

In 2013, Ryan is the ultimate underdog and, deep down, he knows it. He won't try to sell us on having the best roster he's ever had; his New York Jets will be expected to win a handful of games.

And forget about him offering one of his throwback Super Bowl guarantees.

"Guaranteeing that Super Bowl is always going to haunt me," Ryan said. "If I could ever have a do-over, that would be it."

With a contract that runs through 2014, Ryan likely is coaching for his job; owner Woody Johnson's considerable affection for Ryan is trumped by a desire to win. Ryan seems to embrace the task of molding a rebuilt and inexperienced roster into a team that reaches a baseline expectation of playing hard and not beating itself.

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"I never said it was going to be easy, but I'm excited about the challenges," Ryan said. "I know what my responsibility is. We're going to play with a passion, a determination and a competitiveness that won't be matched. That's what we're going to deliver."

Frankly, that would represent progress. Six of the Jets' 10 losses last season were by at least 17 points. That wasn't a near-miss group.

While the single moment of ineptitude that defined the 2012 squad was the Thanksgiving night butt-fumble -- the play that truly keeps on giving -- there is a broader, more disturbing trend for Ryan to correct: The Jets have lost 13 of their last 19 games, dating to December 2011.

"I'm not afraid of any situation that I've ever been put in," Ryan said.

To be fair, the roster is not close to being a finished product. At this point, Ryan has to remake a defense that has no proven safety, a clear leadership void, holes up the gut and the serious question of whether or not Darrelle Revis will be wearing a Jets uniform in 2013.

"Will we look different?" Ryan said. "Absolutely."

He has to insist that Mark Sanchez, the quarterback responsible for 52 turnovers in the past two seasons, finally protects the football. Or hope David Garrard, who hasn't taken a snap since 2010, can provide stability -- if not another quarterback not yet on the roster.

"Obviously we have to improve at the quarterback position -- that's no great secret," said Ryan, who vowed "the position" will protect the football better and will be more accurate.

Man, those back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances, in Ryan's first two seasons at the helm, are firmly in the rearview mirror, aren't they?

"I'm just concerned with coaching this football team," Ryan said. "It's never been about me or my (job) security."

There is indication from within the organization, led by Johnson and new GM John Idzik, that Ryan will get back to what he does best this season. He will serve as defensive play caller, working alongside new coordinator (and close friend) Dennis Thurman.

Handling the offense is new coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who spent the last 10 years with the Philadelphia Eagles and has head-coaching experience. He has to represent a considerable upgrade from Tony Sparano, whose one and only season as Jets offensive coordinator was a debacle. Running backs coach Anthony Lynn, recently given the title of assistant head coach, is also someone Ryan said he will lean on heavily.

Ryan says he's confident in the players in his locker room. He expects big things from some of them, especially second-year linebacker Demario Davis, whose intangibles Ryan has compared to those of Ray Lewis.

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If this is a season of transition for the New York Jets -- Ryan does not like the word "rebuilding" -- then so be it. Ryan says he wants to stick around for the long haul. He's excited, confident. And there's one more thing.

"I think people should be worried about us a lot more than they are," he said. "They talk about this and that. Well, we'll see. We'll see what kind of team our opponents get to play, and I'm excited about it."

That's Rex Ryan's version of bluster these days. He's got a big job ahead. And no one knows that better than he does.

Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports.

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