CORTLAND, N.Y. — Rex Ryan took one glance at the pack of media waiting in the corner of a small patio outside the campus bookstore and stood his ground.
It was drizzling, and the pack was under cover in a dry spot.
"Over here," Ryan bellowed from the wet sidewalk, prompting grumbles.
He was kidding. Ryan, one of the NFL's most dynamic personalities, squeezed his way to the corner of the patio Wednesday and christened the New York Jets training camp by demonstrating that his humor — if not his bluster — is intact.
"I've been backed in a corner before, but this is a little ridiculous," Ryan joked.
"It may be hard to get out."
Even as the questions keep coming about the Geno Smith-Michael Vick quarterback competition — "We're going to already start with that?" Ryan responded when asked if the final decision is his — he looked a lot more relaxed than he did late last season when cornered by intense speculation that he wouldn't be back for 2014.
Now, after missing the playoffs the past three seasons, it's a matter of seeing what he'll do with his extension. He thinks the squad that checked into SUNY-Cortland, with a distinct infusion of offensive talent, can be special.
But he's holding his tongue. Ryan wants back in the playoffs in the worst way, but won't publicly promise any White House trips or make the type of brash declarations we've heard from him before. He's gotten past that. He's maturing.
"We understand there are so many steps that we have to take," he said. "If we could talk about it and get there, it would've already been done. So we know that talking won't get it done. We have to earn it."
Ryan started his tenure in 2009 by reaching the AFC title game with a rookie quarterback (Mark Sanchez). But in my view he did his best coaching job last season when his team rallied down the stretch to finish 8-8 despite an offense woefully short on playmakers to aid Smith, who had plenty of rookie growing pains.
The makeover of the offense is tantalizing, with running back Chris Johnson and receiver Eric Decker pegged for featured roles and Vick in the wings to perhaps win the starting job.
The Jets have gone to great lengths to defuse controversy when it comes to Smith vs. Vick, although that will be the most scrutinized subplot of camp. This is the third year running for QB drama, following the Sanchez-Smith saga of last summer and Tim Tebow's foray in 2012.
Yet in addition to Ryan trying his best to downplay it, there's no Tebowmania circus in the mix and no Hard Knocks cameras fanning the flames. This is a low-key camp, by Jets standards.
Instead, you get stud (and underpaid) defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson maintaining he didn't consider a holdout because that would have meant letting down his teammates. And Ryan gushed about every player passing the conditioning test, a first in his coaching career. He said it was a sign they are invested in the program.
Vick says it goes both ways. The most striking thing he's learned about Ryan since signing on is Ryan wants the players to speak up with their suggestions.
Ryan's always been a coach who bonded well with his players. But before heading into his first team meeting, he said there would be a have a twist in the message he would give to players to set the tone for camp.
"What's different than in the past is that I'm not going to be the only voice," he said. "The way these guys have responded, there's a lot of accountability with each other."
The real measure, though, is whether all that is new will produce a better bottom line.
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