NEW YORK – New playmakers, fresh-faced rookies and a rejuvenated Rex Ryan.
They all have the New York Jets feeling pretty optimistic heading into training camp, with their sights set on ending a three-year playoff drought — the longest since owner Woody Johnson bought the team in 2000.
Despite having inconsistent rookie quarterback Geno Smith start every game last season and an offense that lacked big-time playmakers, the Jets finished 8-8. Three wins in their last four games helped Ryan keep his job, with Johnson not ready to clean house.
"You talk to any of the Super Bowl teams, it's because the guys hung together and they have this camaraderie that really you need," Johnson said during minicamp last month. "And that doesn't happen because I say it. It happens because they feel that they want to do it."
The heat is on, though.
Better things are expected this season, especially after general manager John Idzik addressed some of the team's shortcomings. New York added running back Chris Johnson, wide receiver Eric Decker, quarterback Michael Vick, and a dozen draft picks — many of whom, including safety Calvin Pryor, tight end Jace Amaro and cornerback Dexter McDougle, could see significant playing time.
"I feel good about our team making a Super Bowl run," Smith told the NFL Network a few weeks before training camp.
Bold and confident, sure. But first, the Jets need to get back into the playoffs. Otherwise, Woody Johnson's patience might be totally worn.
Here are some story lines following the Jets into training camp in Cortland, New York:
REVIVED REX: Ryan was on the hot seat for most of his fifth season with the Jets, and his fate wasn't known until Johnson and Idzik announced after the season finale in Miami that the coach would be back.
Ryan was rewarded with a multiyear extension that could keep him in New York through at least 2016 season. There's no guarantee, though, that he'll last beyond this season if the Jets don't at least make a playoff run.
GENO AND VICK: When is a quarterback competition not an actual competition? Well, in this case.
Vick was signed to give the Jets an experienced backup option to Smith, in case the second-year QB struggles or gets injured. Vick is familiar with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's system from their days together in Philadelphia, and believes he has a lot more left. But Smith, coming off a season in which he had 12 TD passes and 21 INTs, enters training camp with the edge for the starting job.
As long as Smith progresses, he'll be given every opportunity to be the guy. If not, Vick will be waiting.
"We've challenged them to push yourself, but push each other, and I think they've done that," Ryan said. "And I think it's good competition."
CJ2K 2.0?: Limited all offseason while recovering from knee surgery, a healthy Chris Johnson could be the key to an improved offense.
All eyes early in camp will be on Johnson, who might not be the same star who ran for 2,000 yards in 2009. But he's a speedy presence who can be a pass-catching home-run threat out of the backfield — a major safety valve for Smith. Paired with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, the Jets could suddenly have a solid, even dangerous, trio of running backs.
CATCHING ON: Decker adds an established playmaker to a receiving corps sorely lacking one last season because of injuries and inexperience. The key will be Decker, who had two huge years in Denver with Peyton Manning, and Smith working on their chemistry this summer.
"It's building," Decker said. "It takes time and I think, every day, I learn something about him, he learns something about me."
Jeremy Kerley, an outstanding third-down receiver, and Decker are probably the only sure bets at the position.
SECONDARY SHAKEUP: The Jets expect Dee Milliner to go from wide-eyed rookie to No. 1 cornerback. With Antonio Cromartie gone, Milliner will be called upon to shut down opponents' top receivers.
Dimitri Patterson, a solid but well-traveled vet, will likely be the other starter, but McDougle — the team's third-round pick — impressed Ryan in minicamp. So did Pryor, a hard-hitting safety who was the No. 18 overall selection and will get every opportunity to start opposite Dawan Landry or Antonio Allen.
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