Tuesday, August 05, 2014
CORTLAND, N.Y. — Marty Mornhinweg might be the not-so-secret key to the New York Jets’ success this season.
Yep, even more than Geno Smith. Or, Michael Vick.
Even Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and the offensive line.
Mornhinweg is the man pulling all of the strings for an offense that expects to be better.
Not only that, it desperately needs to be better. Especially if Rex Ryan and the Jets want to get back to the postseason after three straight years spent at home during the playoffs.
“We just have to start from ground zero,” Mornhinweg said. “This will be a different team. It will be a different makeup. So, we are excited about that.”
The offensive coordinator, in his second season with the Jets, is trying to get a group that appears much-improved through some early growing pains in training camp in which it has been often outplayed by the defense.
He’s also trying to balance a quarterback situation in which Smith is looking to retain his starting job in his second season, while Vick understands he’ll likely be the backup despite believing he can still play at a high level.
And, it’s on Mornhinweg to make it all work.
“Well, we’ll see,” the coach said when asked if the offense will be improved. “My feeling is, we’re much further along, but let’s not let that trick us. That doesn’t mean that we’re any better at all, so we’re going to see.”
Ryan’s first love is his defense, which he expects to be one of the league’s best, as usual.
But because he’s so heavily involved with the defensive playcalling, he needs someone he can trust to get things right.
After having Brian Schottenheimer as his offensive coordinator, and then Tony Sparano, Ryan thinks he and Mornhinweg could be the perfect pairing after a full season together.
“We look at each other and nod, ‘All right, I’ve got you, babe,’” Ryan said with a smile. “When you’ve got that trust factor, it’s huge, but you’ve got to have the right guy in that spot and when you have that, there’s no need to get in the middle of it. You’ve got a trusted hand there. ... So, you have to have the right guy.
“And I believe we do with Marty Mornhinweg.”
Last year, the Jets were 25th in overall offense, and finished second-to last in passing offense. That was with a rookie quarterback in Smith, a banged-up receiving group and a solid but not spectacular backfield.
Now, Smith is in his second year with Vick on board to push him to get better — and be ready to play in case he falters. Decker also gives the Jets an experienced veteran at wide receiver, even if he no longer has Peyton Manning passing to him in Denver.
Johnson, coming off a subpar season in Tennessee and knee surgery in the offseason, is determined to show he still has the speed that made him one of the league’s most dangerous running backs.
“It takes a lot of hard work to be any good at all, and we’ve got high standards here, so we’ll see,” Mornhinweg said.
That’s why Mornhinweg spends countless hours trying to devise the right combinations of personnel and plays, a mad scientist of sorts to complement Ryan’s manic approach to defense.
In his meetings with reporters, Mornhinweg comes across as thoughtful and friendly with an almost John Wayne-like drawl, with his frequent uses of phrases such as, “Lookit” and “Man alive.”
But, the man is intense. He can get on his players with the best of them, barking out criticisms that can be heard even in the stands at camp.
But, he also knows how to deal with sometimes-fragile egos, taking guys on the side and imploring them to be better.
“He’s a great communicator,” Smith said. “He keeps it straight with you. He tells you exactly how he feels. He’s not going to baby you in any way.”
Just as he didn’t with Smith when he struggled last year before rebounding down the stretch with four solid games, three of which the Jets won to finish 8-8.
Things started to click at that point — a bit too late for a playoff run — but that’s the kind of performance Mornhinweg is expecting right away.
“We have got to play at that high level, but we have to do it on a consistent basis, and then continue to improve every day,” Mornhinweg said.
“And I’m talking throughout the regular season as well. Those teams that improve, tend to do well down the stretch. The teams that don’t, tend to fail down the stretch.”
NOTES: Vick was asked — as a Jets public relations staffer indicated it was the last question — if he thought Smith getting almost all of the first-team snaps was an indication the coaches had made a decision. “Decision about what?” Vick asked. “The quarterback job,” the reporter answered. “I’m outta here,” Vick said and smiled. “Y’all have a good one.” Vick then walked past the reporter, who said, “That’s a fair question,” and patted him on the backside. “It’s a fair question, man,” Vick said, smiling.