Florham Park, N.J. – Considering all the lofty expectations that were thrust upon this team from not only Rex Ryan’s bold proclamations, but also back-to-back AFC Championship appearances, this season turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. This is still a team with much more talent than most, but the depth chart was too top heavy and the areas they were lacking talent were prayed upon by opponents and exposed week after week. The offensive coordinator was the subject of early season complaints from receivers not happy with the way the offense was being run and slowly but surely the team started to break apart, but in the midst of the rubble that was the New York Jets 2011 season there is a silver lining on the horizon with new leaders emerging.
With most of the players avoiding the media gathered in the locker room yesterday and others literally running away from cameras and recorders or just flipping them the bird, there were a few players who stood tall and accepted their role in this debacle of a season and showed the others what accountability is supposed to look like.
One can forgive players with expiring contracts not wanting to be asked questions about their future that they can’t possibly answer and you can also give a pass to the few players who were willing to talk all season, but just didn’t have it in them to talk yesterday. What you can’t forgive is the one’s who were involved in starting this mess, one way or another, refusing to accept their role in this disastrous season. If one can’t admit what they’ve done wrong, they can’t possibly hope to better themselves or the people around them, but all that is over now. It ended with the season and what fans can hang their hat on going into next season is the way some of their young players handled themselves and started to become leaders in their own right.
Of course it wasn’t just new, young leaders who stepped up, there were some of the standard veteran leaders who consistently have shown these younger guys what it means to be a professional and a leader as well.
“I think it’s obvious, we ended up 8-8. We talked about all year about how talented we were so if it’s not talent it’s obviously all the intangibles and things like that and I’m not going to point out one guy, it was a lot of different issues.” Jim Leonhard said, “I’m a firm believer in not trying to solve those through the media, but obviously things need to change and it will. I think every single person, myself included, has to look at themselves like they could potentially be part of that change.”
“I think just when guys don’t look at yourself and think you can do better, you can do extra, how can I build chemistry with this particular person or with this group and what can I do to get better, instead of worrying about what everyone else is doing wrong than I think that can have a negative effect on the team.” Brandon Moore said, “And you have that, you know, it’s a part of every team. Everybody’s not happy with whatever the situation, but when you got a bunch of those it can be a problem. That’s the main thing you got to look at what can I do better, personally.”
With examples like Leonhard and Moore it’s easy to see where some of these younger guys are learning how to become leaders themselves. With Leonhard’s return to the team likely but still in question and other leaders like LT also a question mark, it’s important that some of these younger guys step up to take on that role and that’s just what Matt Slauson, Kyle Wilson, Joe McKnight, Aaron Maybin along with veterans like Moore, Leonhard and Antonio Cormartie, did.
Slauson said Ryan’s message to the team was, “It was that the part that we felt fell short in is becoming a team. We have all the weapons in the world, all the talent in the world, we had a championship caliber team as far as talent goes, but we were never a team. That was the part that we missed, we were so focused on having this team with amazing talent that we never came together with the chemistry and that’s something that is going to be addressed and going to be fixed in the offseason.”
“We put ourselves in this position.” Wilson said, “Not much to say, it’s the reality of it.”
Maybin emerged as the Jets best pass rusher this season and as a dangerous weapon for this Jets defense and he also emerged as a voice in the locker room. He is a restricted free-agent going into the off-season and it’s a safe bet to think management will figure out someway to get this kid back here next season and he sure hopes so, “Hoping something keeps me here.” But he doesn’t just want to come back, he wants to return and experience a winning season, playoffs and all.
“We didn’t handle business this time around so that’s very disappointing, especially when you think about the amount of talent you have on this team,” Maybin said. “At the end of the day all that’s left is for us to get better this offseason (and) come back better next season.”
So while some players ran and hid and others were too busy pointing fingers at others to look at themselves, a few veterans and a new crop of young players emerged as leaders to get the Jets back to being a team, but the shining example of leadership and what Rex Ryan means when he says carry yourself like a Jet comes from McKnight’s answer to a question about how he would grade his individual performance for the season.
“I had a couple of bad plays so, C+, B. Something like that. Fumbled the ball, muffed punts and I feel like I didn’t do a lot.” McKnight said, “I mean I did my part, but I need to do more than my part to help the team win.”
If this year’s Jets had 52 other players who thought like that, they’d still be playing football for the next couple of weeks.
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