Rhodes prepares for the tackle
Kerry Rhodes is ready to take his game to another level.
When the Jets signed Jim Leonhard, the playmaking strong safety from Baltimore, Kerry Rhodes knew that the opportunity was there to improve from an average 2008 campaign and join to the NFL's elite.
Now that Rex Ryan is the head coach, and with the defense improved from last season, he knows that the same mentality as last year is not going to be good enough to win a Super Bowl this year.
"We know especially on the defensive side of the ball that we have to have a nasty attitude," Rhodes said after Saturday's morning training camp practice. "We have to be a team that when we go out, teams are scared to play us. They know that we are going to play hard the whole game and we are going to punch them in the mouth the whole game. That's the mentality that we want."
Rhodes likes the mentality Ryan is bringing to the team. He likes that Ryan will put himself out there and come to his team's defense when opposing players take shots at them.
After OTAs in June, Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder tried to mock Rhodes and his Twittered goals for the Jets, claiming the Green & White were the "OTA Super Bowl winners," Ryan then jumped into the fray, exchanging comments for a few days with Crowder.
"It trickles down from the head guy," said Rhodes. "Whenever your head guy is a fiery guy and will talk to another player from another team and tell him that he'll do something to him, you know that he shas your back."
Rhodes sees Ryan's vision and knows business is business, but also understands the coach's belief that along the way they should have fun, too.
"It's definitely fun, and he doesn't look down on having fun, and that's the best thing," he said. "Everyone is competing and that's what you want at camp."
"You're playing a kids' game and I'm coaching a kids' game, and getting paid a lot to do that. What do we have to be mad about?" Ryan said after practice. "There are so many people that would love to be doing what we're doing. We ought to just be grateful for it. You see the guys and they really enjoy what they're doing."
Since Ryan has been head coach, players are starting to learn more about his personality, and so far they like what they see. He's a pretty likable guy even for the most adverse critics.
He's a guy who hangs his emotion on his sleeve, and that, Rhodes said, is something to be admired.
"Whenever you have emotion, it can help you win games," he said." I know it can be a negative, but when you know how to channel it in and it's down to one goal and everyone has that common goal, it can be a positive thing. That's what it is for us right now."
Rhodes also talked about how Leonhard, coming off a great performance in practice, can help him develop better into his free safety position, and take some of the responsibility off of his shoulders this year.
"He's doing a great job," he said. "I don't think it's his playmaking ability per se, but it's his understanding of the defense and knowing how to get people lined up when in years past I had to do all of that."
Speaking of new editions, defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman and assistant DBs coach Doug Plank can benefit Rhodes and the defense in bringing in their "new ideas," like the 46 defense, which got its name from Plank's No. 46 jersey when he was a member of the Chicago Bears, who won Super Bowl XX after the 1985 season.
"Plank and Thurman both have a lot of playing experience," Rhodes said. "They both played for good teams. Plank was a guy that made a lot of plays in his playing days. Whenever you have guys like that, you listen to them. You know that they've been through the wars and they've been through the same situations that you've been through before. It helps a lot when you have guys like that around."
Those Bears, for whom Rex's father, Buddy, was the defensive coordinator, were a great defense for many years. Rhodes has similar hopes for this year's Jets, obviously since he tweeted that they would have the top defense this year.
But there are others not too far apart from the Jets who have similar goals themselves.
"Me and Tuck went at it a little bit," Rhodes said of Giants DE Justin Tuck, "but we were just playing around. He said the Giants would be the No.1 D."
Rhodes doesn't want to create any tension among his own teammates with predictions, but the feeling is shared throughout the organization.
"We don't want to put pressure on ourselves," he said. "We want to just do what we want, to accomplish our goal, and that's to be the No. 1 defense in the league. We know what steps that we're going to take and we know what we need to get done to do it."
Knowing the type of wide receiver talent in the AFC East — including two meetings each with New England's Randy Moss and Buffalo's Terrell Owens — Rhodes will be trying to use what he's learning here at training camp to help shut them down.
"I always want to play the best and those are two of the best receivers in the league," he said. "I look forward to getting to face those guys and getting to eliminate them. It's going to be fun."