FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Know and know you know.
Those five words are constantly pounded into the heads of the New York Jets' offensive players this year. It stands for understanding, accountability and being able to trust the player next to you.
It is a motto new Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano came up with a couple of years ago. Consider it a "Sparanoism," if you will. It's a motto that must ring true for an underachieving Jets offense that finished 25th in the NFL in 2011 and a team that imploded down the stretch by losing its last three games.
"The bottom line is that you’re teaching them to understand and pay attention to the details," Sparano said Tuesday. "I said this from Day 1: 'If you do not know your assignment, I cannot put you out there on the field.' I told them that.
"Be sure you know, and when you think you know it, go back over it again so that you know it. It allows you to play faster when you're sure about those things."
Sparano's blunt style is not for everyone. He is no frills and in your face. Recently Sparano made headlines in New York by yelling at golden-boy quarterback Tim Tebow for not using his check-down receiver in practice. Absolutely no one is immune from Sparano's detail-oriented approach.
Last year's implosion in New York is well documented. The Jets' offense was turnover-laden, inconsistent and downright sloppy under former coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. By the end of the season, there were chemistry issues and bickering among players, which led to New York missing the playoffs for the first time under head coach Rex Ryan.
New York's offense needs a kick in the rear -- and Sparano is just the right guy to do it.
"With his personality and toughness, we're not going to have a choice but to come together," Jets starting guard Matt Slauson said. "He's got kind of a 'Bash Brothers' mentality. So we have to go along with him, and to do that we have to be side-by-side and watching each other’s back."
Sparano's job won't be easy. He aims to make the Jets both a tougher and smarter offense, while also keeping its many personalities in line. Sparano must be part X's and O's coach and part counselor.
But Jets players so far have been very impressed with Sparano, who is very well liked and well respected throughout the NFL. Although no one would outright admit it, it's clear Sparano's approach has been a breath of fresh air compared to his predecessor.
"He’s a lot more hands-on than what we’re familiar with, but I definitely think it will work,” Jets receiver Jeremy Kerley said. “His approach to the game is an aggressive approach, which is something I need and hopefully something all the guys need. He’s hungry about his job. That’s one thing, as players, you feed off that.”
Tebow, known for his strong work ethic, said Sparano's love for the game shows through.
“Some mornings when we’ll have off, he’ll come up here at 4 in the morning just to go over more ball,” Tebow said. “He’s just passionate about it. He loves it. That’s what you want out of a coach, is a coach that loves the game, is passionate about it and is also creative.”
As Tebow pointed out, Sparano’s renewed passion was one of the first things I noticed during Tuesday’s opening of mandatory minicamp. He seems more energized and at ease from the coach I saw in his final year in Miami.
Seemingly every week during the 2011 season there was speculation about Sparano’s job security, and that clearly wore on him. His firing became inevitable after Miami started 0-7 ; he eventually was fired after Week 14 when the Dolphins were 4-9.
But Sparano has found a respite, of all places, with his former rival. He no longer must face the media five times a week. That’s Rex Ryan’s job. Sparano also can focus on just one side of the football for the first time since 2007.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the chair that Rex Ryan sits in as a head coach. I’ve been there for four years,” Sparano said. “I understand all the things that go by your desk every single day and the amount of times people knock on your door and want five minutes of your time and next thing you know you’re out of time.
“Here, right now, I just get to do football. That’s been kind of nice for me right now is to get back to doing football and not have to worry about other things.”
Sparano said if he can reduce turnovers (Jets had 34 in 2011), decrease the negative plays, and be more effective on third downs and the red zone, New York's offense should be right where he wants it.
The biggest key will be starting quarterback Mark Sanchez. He had a tough season with turnovers and minus players, but Sparano said he believes in Sanchez. The pairing will be mostly responsible for turning around the Jets' offense. By all accounts, the pair hit it off early and has a good relationship.
Sanchez made some big-time throws in Tuesday's practice, which included three touchdown passes in team drills. Sanchez’s confidence appears to be gradually improving under Sparano, and so has his performance this offseason.
“Right now I’ve seen [Sanchez] make in practice just about every throw that I need to see him make,” Sparano said.
It’s been an interesting journey for Sparano this past year, to say the least. Last summer he would have never guessed he would be coaching offense for his biggest rival. But Sparano is confident he landed in the right place, and the feeling is mutual from the Jets.
“I think sometimes everything happens for a reason,” Sparano said. “This kind of situation here, those kids in Miami played really hard for me, and I appreciate that from them. It’s given me a heck of an opportunity here with the New York Jets.”