Ryan makes Enemkpali captain vs. Jets
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Saying he’s put his time with the J-E-T-S in the P-A-S-T, Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan insisted the focus of attention shouldn’t be placed on him.
If that’s the case, Ryan certainly had a curious way of showing it Monday.
In preparing to face his former team for the first time since being fired in December after six seasons in New York, Ryan announced he intends to designate linebacker IK Enemkpali as one of Buffalo’s team captains for the game at The Meadowlands on Thursday night.
Enemkpali, of course, is the player who was released by the Jets for a punch that broke starting quarterback Geno Smith’s jaw during a locker room confrontation in August.
”Yeah, I’ll get ripped,” Ryan said, acknowledging some might criticize his motives.
Ryan then justified his decision by noting he traditionally selects captains based on their ties to his team’s opponent.
That was the case in both of Buffalo’s games against Miami this season, when guard Richie Incognito was one of several former Dolphins players designated as captains. Incognito was suspended for his role in a bullying scandal while with the Dolphins.
Ryan noted that tight end Matthew Mulligan, a former Jets player, and receiver Chris Hogan, who is from New Jersey, are also expected to serve as captains.
”You know, if IK went out there by himself, maybe that would be a different statement,” Ryan said. ”But that’s not what we do.”
As if the midseason showdown between two AFC East rivals needed any more prime-time buzz, Ryan found a way to up the ante to no one’s surprise – including the Jets.
”Love it,” New York receiver Brandon Marshall said, smiling. ”That’s a Rex Ryan move. I mean, are you guys surprised?”
Jets coach Todd Bowles, who replaced Ryan, deflected questions as to whether he considered the Enemkpali’s designation disrespectful to Smith and the Jets.
”We just worry about us,” Bowles said. ”We don’t worry about anybody else.”
Enemkpali said he didn’t see the move coming when informed by reporters following practice.
”No nerves,” he said. ”If anything, I’m just excited to go out there and play.”
Enemkpali, who was claimed off waivers by Buffalo a day after being cut by New York, declined to discuss what sparked the altercation with Smith.
He said he feels indebted to the Bills for retaining him even after he finished serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Smith was sidelined for the first three weeks of the season and has been relegated to a backup role behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills former starter.
Ryan, otherwise, went out of his way to play down his ties to the Jets by saying the focus of attention should be on two teams competing to stay firmly in the playoff hunt.
Buffalo (4-4) snapped a two-game skid with a 33-17 win over Miami on Sunday. The Jets (5-3) also ended a two-game losing streak with a 28-23 win over Jacksonville.
”It’s going to be a passionate game. It’s going to be an exciting game, a whatever-type game, but not for the reasons that you may be thinking,” Ryan said. ”It has nothing to do with me or anybody else. That’s the reality of it.”
For six seasons, Ryan was the face and voice of the Jets, where he had a 50-52 record – including a 4-2 mark in the postseason – and was fired after a 4-12 finish last year. A few weeks later, he was hired by the Bills in replacing Doug Marrone, who abruptly stepped down on Dec. 31.
Ryan’s arrival immediately raised the profile of the Bills, a once-proud team in the midst of a 15-season playoff drought – the NFL’s longest active streak. He also provided a brash voice to a franchise, and was immediately adopted by the team’s fan base.
The buzz, however, faded after the Bills lost consecutive games before rebounding to beat the Dolphins.
Ryan said he was grateful to the Jets for providing him an opportunity to be a first-time head coach.
But that, he said, is the past. He’s focused on getting the Bills ready during a short week.
The only thing Ryan is certain of is what type of reception he’ll receive Thursday.
”Oh, I think we all know. There’s going to be a lot of waving out there,” he said.
Ryan then broke into a smile and added: ”One fingered and all that stuff. That much is a given.”
AP Sports Writer Dennis Waszak Jr. in Florham Park, New Jersey, contributed to this report.
AP NFL websites: http://pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL