Updated, Feb. 19, 8:30 a.m. ET
Rex Ryan made no bones about it at the end of the season — our players wanted to keep playing.
Of course, the players didn't have to worry about that happening, since there were no playoffs accompanying the 8-8 record. But the strong final quarter of the season and the emergence of players young and old have us springboarding into 2014 with momentum.
But the coaches have started work on the new season already, and that was apparent when Eric Allen, my longtime partner at newyorkjets.com, sat down with OC Marty Mornhinweg and DC Dennis Thurman for interviews on this afternoon's installment of Jets Talk Live.
Mornhinweg on Offense's Strong Closing Kick
For Mornhinweg, the optimism starts as usual with the quarterback and the way Geno Smith finished his rookie campaign.
"One clear thing we got out of it," Mornhinweg said about his and his coaches' end-of-year self-scout, "we were much better later in the year, those last four weeks, than we were early in the year. And the quarterback played outstanding in three of those last four games, so that was good."
What part of Smith's game most impressed Mornhinweg? The game obviously slowed down for the second-round QB from West Virginia — "No question, there's no substitute for a little bit of experience," he said.
But the key in the offensive coordinator's eyes was how Smith got a handle on the ball, cutting his personal giveaways by quarters from 11 to 5 to 7 to 2 in the last four games. In fact, just as we had our first two-game winning streak in the season-closing games against Cleveland and Miami, Geno had his first two back-to-back turnover-less outings in those two games.
"In college he had a fumbling problem, so certainly we emphasized it, drilled it, worked it. Much of that's a mentality as far as taking care of the ball that way," Mornhinweg said. "It's a different game in the NFL, the ball-security situation. [Defenses] drill it, they practice it, they get paid to get the ball out. But most of Geno's turnovers came early. I believe he had two in the last month. He became a smarter player as well in a couple of situations down the stretch."
Marty touted other areas of his team as well, but one more we'll pass on to you was his observation on our offensive line: "There were a lot of really good things there at the end, but one of the big things that happened for us was our offensive line. They stayed healthy and they got better and better and better as the year went on."
Thurman: Great Young Group Up Front**
Dennis Thurman was equally bullish on his troops after his first year as an NFL D-coordinator.
"Things went fairly well. We were happy for the most part with the way we played defense. We have a few areas we have to shore up."
The "happy for the most part" part was the front four — Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison, Kenrick Ellis, plus Quinton Coples, who transitioned to OLB but still put his DE skills on display along the way.
"They're a young group, they're all pretty much the same age," Thurman said, "so peer pressure becomes a big part of that. ... Our guys are all looking to get better. Usually defensive linemen take a tremendous jump from year 2 to year 3, year 3 to year 4. That's the range for these guys, so we're anticipating them making a huge jump in their performance, their overall play together. I think that's a great young group that we have up front."
The shoring-up part was in the secondary, but DT felt that unit also came along toward the end of the year with the way Dee Milliner concluded his season and Antonio Cromartie fought through his hip issues.
"We didn't play as well in the secondary as we had in prior years, but we had some new guys come in back there," he said. "We brought in Dee, we brought in Dawan Landry, Cro was coming off of a hip injury. We had to get that group back up to speed. Communication wasn't as sharp early on as it was later in the year, when you began to see the improvement as the guys played more together. So we're anticipating that we'll pick that up and well keep it moving forward."
EA pitched some Twitter questions to both Thurman and Mornhinweg, and then Allen and Rich Cirminiello batted around some draft questions in advance of the Thursday start to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. There's a lot more from today's interviews on JTL. The videos Mornhinweg video is available on top of this blog and the Thurman video will be posted on our site later today.