It would be a gross exaggeration to say that Rex Ryan doesn't care who quarterbacks the New York Jets in the 2009 season.
He obviously cares.
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It's just that Ryan isn't obsessing over whether the starter he has in his first season as an NFL head coach is someone who has impressive career numbers or who has barely seen the field as a pro.
Part of that is Ryan's nature; he doesn't do a whole of obsessing about anything. And part of that is because he genuinely believes he doesn't need an exceptionally gifted quarterback because that isn't the position he expects to carry the Jets to Super Bowl contention.
Ryan's blueprint calls for the same sort of smothering, playmaking defense that he guided with the Baltimore Ravens. He has reason to feel good that the Jets -- with former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott and other defensive free agents joining an already fairly sound foundation -- are going to win the bulk of their games by keeping opponents off the scoreboard and shortening the field for their offense.
After the retirement of Brett Favre, Ryan also has reason to feel good that he can find a solid answer at quarterback from one of the two leading contenders on the roster -- fourth-year man Kellen Clemens and 2007 undrafted free agent Brett Ratliff. Erik Ainge, a 2008 draft pick, is also part of the mix.
With a trio of quarterbacks that has just eight starts between them, Ryan isn't hung up with his quarterback having any particularly sterling qualities such as a big arm, accuracy, command in the huddle, poise in the pocket.
"We want a guy that's going to lead the league in wins," Ryan said during last week's NFL Annual Meeting at Dana Point, Calif. "We don't care about leading it in passing yards or any of this other stuff. He just has to understand it's about the team. It's a big part, but … he doesn't have to be the solution, he just has to be part of the solution."
For the most part, the No. 1 trait Ryan wants in his quarterback is exactly what you'd expect from a defensive-oriented coach: "Don't be careless with the football."
Ryan takes great comfort in the fact Clemens is in his fourth season in the scheme of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. And he is not diminishing the fact that Ratliff had a 122.5 passer rating during the '08 preseason. Critics say he simply was taking advantage of second- and third-string defenders, but, as Ryan points out, "that would be good versus air." Another such preseason performance would, in Ryan's estimation, be good enough for Ratliff to win the job.
"I am very comfortable with our quarterback situation," Ryan said. "We were very fortunate to keep Brian Schottenheimer as our coordinator, so that's going to make it much easier on these guys. They're not coming in learning a brand new system. They're almost veterans in that system. It's going to be a physical thing, not a mental thing.
"Now just let their physical talents take over and we'll be able to choose a starting quarterback based on that."
Another reason that Ryan isn't losing sleep over his quarterback situation is the outstanding support that the rest of his offense is capable of providing.
Ryan has tremendous faith in Schottenheimer and the rest of what he describes as an "unbelievable" offensive coaching staff. He is highly impressed with his offensive line (with Pro Bowlers in guard Alan Faneca and center Nick Mangold) that, if it stays healthy, "has a chance to be one of the top offensive lines in the league." He loves his Pro Bowl tailback combination of Thomas Jones and Leon Washington. He calls second-year tight end Dustin Keller "a nightmare for a defensive coach; he's got unusual ability as a receiver and he's going to get better as a blocker." In addition, Ryan would "like to be a quarterback" with Jerricho Cotchery and the other playmakers he has at wide receiver.
"I certainly feel good about our offense," Ryan said.
Good enough to pick a starter from one of the quarterbacks already on the roster.
Although that doesn't rule out the much-speculated possibility of the Jets making a deal with the Broncos to acquire disgruntled Jay Cutler, the move seems unlikely.
"Like with any position, if we think there's a player out there that can help this football team, then we'll certainly consider it," Ryan said. "But as far as us going out looking at that specific area, I would say that that's not true."