Rex Ryan is no dummy, and so after he read off the Jets' injury report at his press conference Wednesday, he grinned at the reporters and into the glare of the television cameras crowded into the media room at the Jets' training facility.
"Fire away, let's go," Ryan said. "Ask the questions you want to ask."
An awkward silence ensued.
"I'm asking you -- you guys got the forum," Ryan said. "I'm not sitting in those chairs."
Finally, the first question was asked: What did Ryan think of that morning's New York Daily News story in which anonymous players -- and team officials -- blasted backup quarterback Tim Tebow, who was called "terrible" by an unnamed defensive player and identified by others as a player who is not the answer for the Jets' offensive and quarterbacking woes?
Once the first Tebow question was asked, the queries were impossible to stop. Of the 16 questions Ryan fielded Wednesday, 14 were about Tebow -- who has all of 33 offensive touches and no touchdowns for a team that is 3-6.
And Ryan, who usually opens his Wednesday presser with a filibuster-sized statement on the upcoming opponent, didn't even mention the Rams -- whom the Jets play Sunday in St. Louis -- once.
Only in Florham Park.
Of the many hundreds of words Ryan spoke about Tebow and what he called the cowardly actions of Tebow's mostly anonymous critics (lineman Matt Slauson was the only player quoted on the record about preferring Mark Sanchez to Tebow or third-stringer Greg McElroy), the most interesting had to do with the chemistry of the team and how Ryan believes the controversy generated by Wednesday's story could bring the Jets closer.
"I know it's probably a unique way of doing things, and could it come back and bite you? I guess," Ryan said. "I'm not afraid of it. I think that we're building a team that will be close and we'll build each other up. I look at it as an opportunity to actually build your team up."
The Jets, of course, are less than a year removed from being brought down from within by in-fighting that occurred both on and off the record. Former wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason, as well as erstwhile no. 1 wideout Santonio Holmes, all criticized former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. And after the season, the Daily News ran a story in which anonymous players and executives called Sanchez lazy and said the Jets should pursue Peyton Manning.
"I've been in his shoes," Sanchez said. "I feel for Tim. That sucks. It just sucks."
A shaken Ryan responded to last season's internal dissension by promising to take a more active role in overseeing the locker room. He has said numerous times this season that the Jets are a more cohesive unit than last year, a stand he maintained on Wednesday.
"I did recognize there was something wrong there and I've made it my personal agenda to go out and fix it," Ryan said. "If I'm going to be judged on this team (and) will it come together or not, that's fine with me, and I'll be here a long time because I believe this team will be like that."
Publically, at least, the Jets struck a cohesive tone during their open locker room session a few hours later. And Tebow, the man at the center of the latest Jets controversy was his usual upbeat self, even if he seemed a bit bemused by the uproar.
"I don't stop and wonder why," Tebow said of the attention he receives. "That doesn't help me. It doesn't help you do anything. It just makes you think about it more. That's not who I am and who I want to be."
Tebow also sidestepped any potential controversy when he was asked if he agreed with Ryan when the coach said those who spoke anonymously were cowards.
"If that's how (the players and executives) want to be, then I'm not going to judge them for doing that," Tebow said. "I just try to control what I can control. And I can't control other people."
Sanchez, meanwhile, noted the Jets are the only ones who are in control of changing the storyline surrounding them.
"We've just gotta go win the damn game," Sanchez said. "Just go win the damn game and this whole thing turns. I'm telling you, it's contagious, this kind of stuff."
Presumably, he meant winning, and not anonymously sourced stories.
"You win a game and you remember what it's like and you feel good about a game, you feel good about, you feel good about your prep," Sanchez said. "Go out, have some fun, smile, complete some passes and move on."
As he spoke with reporters, Sanchez was wearing a white T-shirt with the Jets logo and the words "We will persist" on the front and the words "until we succeed" on the back. Was he sending a message of unity?
"We all have 'em," said Sanchez, who said the shirts arrived in the last couple of weeks and said there was no intent behind wearing the shirt Wednesday. "We can do shirtless next time."
Of course, a few minutes after his press conference, Sanchez took off the shirt and tossed it into a laundry bin.