Rex Ryan doesn't mind his New York Jets players saying what's on their minds. Just as long as they put their names to their comments.
An angry Ryan addressed his team Wednesday for some anonymous quotes by players and members of the organization ripping backup quarterback Tim Tebow in a newspaper report.
"If you're not going to put your name to it, I think that's about as cowardly of a thing there is," Ryan said. "I don't want to get into specifics of what I said, but I did address it with our football team. If you're searching for things to try to drive a wedge through the team, my thing is, I believe in this team.
'We never brought him in to be the starting quarterback. We already had a starting quarterback in Mark Sanchez. I thought I was clear on that from the day we brought Tim in here.' —Jets coach Rex Ryan
"I believe this team is [together], will continue to be and maybe even become tighter. I'm confident that will be the case."
A report in the Daily News on Wednesday said that more than a dozen players and members of the Jets organization believe there's no chance Tebow could overtake Mark Sanchez for the starting quarterback job — with one saying of the backup: "He's terrible."
"We never say that it always has to be a bed of roses," said Ryan, who encourages his players and coaches to "be yourself" in interviews. "But again, put your name to it. I think people would respect you a lot more for it."
The story drew so much attention that not a single question about the Jets' next opponent, the St. Louis Rams, was asked during Ryan's 22-minute news conference.
Sanchez knows the feeling
Tebow has remained unflappable all season despite constant questions about his role and how he's used by the Jets, but acknowledged this was a "unique" situation in his career and there was "some frustration and I guess some sadness" after hearing about the story.
"This is something I can't control," Tebow said, adding that the locker room is filled with "a bunch of awesome dudes."
"I can control my attitude, my effort and my work ethic," he added. "Those are things that will never change based on what anybody says."
Sanchez, who has taken his share of criticism during his nearly four seasons in New York, supported his teammate.
"I've been in those shoes," he said. "I feel for Tim. You wake up the next day and you keep playing."
Left guard Matt Slauson was one player whose name was used in the report, saying that "it's not even close" in terms of who the Jets' best quarterback is and that he has "all the confidence in Mark," but adds: "We don't really have a choice." Slauson said his comments were made "long ago, months ago" and didn't even remember making them.
"I feel that Mark is our quarterback," Slauson said simply Wednesday. "That's how I feel."
Tebow approached Slauson after hearing about his comments while they were in the trainers' room Wednesday morning, and smoothed things over.
"It was great," Tebow said. "He's an awesome guy and we have a great relationship. He's someone you love having on your football team."
Tebow added that he has been knocked all his life on the football field, constantly told by others what he can't do and using it to try to motivate himself.
"I always find the good and the positive in every situation," Tebow said, "and the positive of this is to go and work a little harder and build better relationships with your teammates."
Tebow was acquired from Denver in a stunning trade in March, with the Jets envisioning using the popular player in key spots on offense. Instead, he has had little impact through nine games, rushing 27 times for 92 yards and completing five of his six passes for 40 yards. Tebow also has not scored with the Jets, and the wildcat package he was supposed to be such a large part of has been inconsistent and mostly ineffective.
Ryan and the Jets insist he has made a difference on special teams, though, as New York's personal punt protector because opponents have been forced to account for him since he has pulled off a handful of fakes.
"We asked him, a former Heisman Trophy winner, first-round pick, a quarterback who led his team to a playoffs that, `You know what? We want you to be our personal protector,"' Ryan said. "Everything we've asked him to do, he's done."
But with Sanchez mired in a dreadful slump in which he has thrown two touchdowns and three interceptions, lost three fumbles and been sacked 11 times in the Jets' last three games, Ryan remains committed to him as the starting quarterback. Many fans and media have been calling for Tebow to take over for Sanchez to, more than anything, provide a spark for the offense.
For now, though, this remains Sanchez's team. And Tebow will remain on the sideline for most games, aside from the seven or eight plays he averages.
"He's a football player and I said that from Day 1," Ryan said of Tebow. "We never brought him in to be the starting quarterback. We already had a starting quarterback in Mark Sanchez. I thought I was clear on that from the day we brought Tim in here."
Ryan did, in fact, insist since the offseason that Sanchez was his guy, and he has stuck to that. But the latest locker room chatter presents an issue that the Jets are all too familiar with. In-fighting helped sink New York's season a year ago, with Sanchez and Santonio Holmes at odds nearly throughout.
After the season ended, several anonymous players were quoted in a media report saying they were uncertain of Sanchez's leadership abilities and called for the Jets to make a hard push for Peyton Manning.
"No question it can be harmful," safety Yeremiah Bell said of locker room turmoil. "I mean that's why the story's out there, just to try to break this locker room up and make us kind of go and turn against each other. But that's not what we're all about. We all think the source is not credible and we don't believe we have those types of guys in this locker room. It's just ridiculous to us."
Ryan not a Tebow backer?
Ryan insists keeping his locker room together, something he thinks was a bit exaggerated last year, won't be a problem this time around.
"This team, in my opinion, is not going to be pulled apart by outside people," Ryan said. "Inside the walls, we're going to be [together], and that's what's going to give us an opportunity. If I'm wrong on that, obviously, that's going to be a different issue. I don't believe that."
Some have speculated that the team's infrequent use of Tebow is a reflection of Ryan's true feelings about him, that perhaps he was never on board with bringing him to the Jets in the first place — and it's owner Woody Johnson who pushed for the popular backup to be here and drum up ticket sales.
General manager Mike Tannenbaum told The Associated Press during training camp that he and Ryan kicked around the idea while waiting for a flight, and the two — along with Johnson and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano — were excited about the prospect about bringing in Tebow.
"I absolutely wanted Tim here," Ryan said. "The reason I say that is for the things that we've talked about. I was very honest from Day 1, and I've never gotten off that."