Commentary

Jets are a giant chemistry experiment

They're talking a good game right now, even without Darrelle Revis, but will it last?

Updated: August 10, 2010, 10:12 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Even with the Darrelle Revis contract holdout shadowing the New York Jets more than ever on Tuesday, just one day after owner Woody Johnson flatly said he wasn't optimistic their Pro Bowl cornerback will return in the time for the regular season, the Jets have been portraying themselves as Team Buy-In for days. But should we buy it too?

[+] EnlargeLaDainian Tomlinson
AP Photo/Kevin RivoliLaDainian Tomlinson says he's happy to be a Jet, but will that change if he feels underused?

All the obvious dangers that could jump up to bite the Jets this year -- the other unsolved contract situations they'll carry into this season, LaDainian Tomlinson's transition from superstar to someone in competition for playing time, the baggage that cornerback Antonio Cromartie and wideouts Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes bring -- are met, for now anyway, with a lot of feel-good stories from Gang Green about how much love and understanding is already flowing through the team.

Will it last when hard times hit, or the Jets start 0-3? We'll see. It's one of the great questions hanging over their season.

For now, anyway, it was hard to miss how Tomlinson took a pass and ran for a 70-yard touchdown in the team's first scrimmage on Saturday, and then said afterward: "I just wanted to make a play for the team."

Holmes had so many off-the-field issues the Steelers finally traded him away, even though he was their last Super Bowl MVP. But Holmes said now that he's here, all he and Edwards and fellow wideout Jerricho Cotchery do "is sit on the sideline and talk about how great we can be. … I think that the chemistry we're building amongst ourselves is going to be something special for Mark [Sanchez]."

Third-year Jets tight end Dustin Keller is extremely talented, too. But even so, Keller knows he's still only the fourth or fifth most credentialed receiver Sanchez can choose from on a given play if Holmes, Edwards and Tomlinson are all running routes. On Tuesday, Keller had the most honest assessment of anybody.

"I know people are wondering about there being so many receivers on the field and everyone not getting the balls they want," Keller began, "but these guys have a win-now mentality. … We brought in character people. … We have a Super Bowl-or-bust, by-any-means-necessary mentality. As receivers, we all know we can get our number called at any time. One game Braylon could have 10 catches. The next game it could be Santonio or Jerricho or me.

"Of course, if things aren't working that well," Keller added, "obviously, being the competitors we all are, we'd all want to be the guy that gets the ball more too."

Rex Ryan knows that. He doesn't discount "the chemistry is in question" and that managing it will be an issue for the Jets this season. In addition to Revis holding out, center Nick Mangold and linebacker David Harris are here but unhappy with their contracts.

Tomlinson is just days removed from reports out of San Diego that his former Chargers teammates are relieved he's gone because he tended to lord his star status over them sometimes. Edwards and Holmes are both in the final year of their contracts, and it's pretty clear at season's end the Jets won't be able to afford both of them -- even if they both play great. How will that tension play out?

"You know why I think it will work?" Keller said. "Because we know what we have here. People can say yeah, money or contracts change things. But if you're getting open the film doesn't lie, and there's another saying in the NFL: 'If you're not auditioning here, you're always auditioning for another team.'"

"If we win the Super Bowl," Holmes added Tuesday, "everyone gets taken care of. It might not be with just one team."

They're both good answers. And Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum went ahead and made all those moves and trades because he thinks Ryan is the great equalizer. We'll see about that, too.

Ryan is an arresting speaker, all right. He dealt with plenty of strong personalities as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator long before he got to New York. For all the talk about what a fearless trash-talker Ryan is, the underplayed truth is he's an even bigger, more flagrant optimist. And that endears him to players too.

Ryan has routinely come in after practices here at camp talking animatedly about some "great" or "tremendous" or "exciting" thing he's just seen. In the past two days alone, he's called Revis, Mangold, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and nose tackle Kris Jenkins all the best in the NFL at their position. He routinely calls Tomlinson the best third-down running back in the game.

Ryan has gotten almost misty-eyed at times talking about all the selflessness that he's seen popping up among the Jets so far. On Monday, he raved about how 39-year-old Jets fullback Tony Richardson has been mentoring rookie fullback John Conner even though Conner could steal his job. On Tuesday, Ryan revisited how do-everything veteran defensive back Dwight Lowery volunteered to secondary coach Dennis Thurman that rookie first-round pick Kyle Wilson should start ahead of him.

"When Dennis told me I was like, 'What? I've never heard of that in my life!'" Ryan said.

Then he gave a rousing mini-speech about having the right people here and playing as a unit -- a speech you could see him giving his players. His emotion and sincerity were affecting. But will the Jets still be Team Buy-In if Edwards has only 11 catches by Game 6, or second-year running back Shonn Greene is getting way more carries than Tomlinson?

"Oh, Rex puts his foot down when situations come up," Keller insisted.

Might as well enjoy what harmony is here, even without Revis.

"It all looks great in theory … [but] the proof is in the pudding," Ryan admitted. "We'll see what happens when we kick it off."

Johnette Howard is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

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