09252021

Mehta: Dawan Landry is Rex Ryan’s safety net

Dawan Landry, at 31, is the most experienced player in the secondary for Rex Ryan.Robert Sabo/New York Daily News Dawan Landry, at 31, is the most experienced player in the secondary for Rex Ryan.


Long ago, the O.G. was a left-handed dual-threat quarterback, who conjured up images of another athletic dynamo playing the same position.


These days, Dawan Landry is an indispensable safety holding together a young and turbulent Jets secondary, a walking, talking Elmer’s stick, but his previous life as a high school and college signal caller had some people calling him the next Mike Vick.


“I had that comparison,” Landry said with a smile. “But I couldn’t be Mike Vick.”


Landry was a Top 25 quarterback recruit who used his arms, legs and brain to get into Georgia Tech. He was the scout team quarterback as a freshman before coaches moved him to defense for the first time, a position switch that opened the door to a life in the NFL.


He is Rex Ryan’s de facto player-coach, a stabilizing presence surrounded by chaos. He is the Everyman, the quiet man, and the man whose ability to quickly process information and relay it to his young, inexperienced teammates is invaluable.


Life as a quarterback prepared him for life as a safety. He knew how to think like the guys under center. He used to be one of them.


The wide receiver route combinations were familiar even though his vantage point had shifted. He admitted that “just having a natural feel for the routes as they open up” was critical in his safety education.


Landry, 31, says that he relates to the younger defensive backs because he’s a “clown, in part,” but his tireless work ethic and unconditional willingness to impart the lessons that he’s learned in the past nine seasons are the real reasons why he is so respected by his peers.


“Hey, look. Is he as fast as he once was? Maybe not,” Ryan said. “But he’s smart. He’s going to know where to be and very rarely is he in a poor position. He’s just a great example for the other guys.”


He still works his derriere off.


“I darn near have to fight him when I want to pull him out for a play in practice,” defensive backs coach Tim McDonald said. “Our guys look up to him and they know that he’s not going to tell you wrong. It’s pretty special having a guy like that.”


In a league where job security lasts until teams find the next great stud to replace you, Landry isn’t afraid to share. He is an open book, a friend, a teacher and a resource for all the defensive backs. He has more NFL experience than Kyle Wilson, Antonio Allen, Dee Milliner and Calvin Pryor combined.


“You always want your teammates to be at their best,” Landry said of helping younger players. “I never was that type of guy to (withhold information).”


It’s an admirable trait that hasn’t gone unnoticed or underappreciated by the defensive backs who call him O.G. (Original Gangster) or simply Mentor, an homage to a selfless man.


“He’s been tremendous,” Allen said. “You couldn’t ask for a better mentor than him. He’s not going to steer you wrong.”


Pryor’s arrival raised questions about whether Landry’s days as a starter were numbered. When Ryan played Landry with the backups at times during training camp, the whispers grew louder: Maybe Landry would have to take a back seat to the first-round pick. Injuries that prompted Allen to move to cornerback made it a moot point, but Landry never stopped helping Pryor.


“He’s the main reason I know most of the defense,” Pryor said. “He’s definitely been on me since Day 1 getting everything down pat.”


Landry might be older and a bit slower than others on the back end, but his football I.Q. is unmatched. Ryan, who coached Landry for three seasons in Baltimore before bringing him back last year, trusts the veteran to absorb pre-snap offensive looks, make the proper adjustments and convey the changes to teammates.


He is Ryan’s Chief Communicator in the secondary with thankless responsibilities that will never make SportsCenter.


“He’s got to see the whole picture and communicate that picture,” McDonald said. “Rex is always going to have some twists in there. Dawan is able to work his way through that in a rapid-fire pace under the gun in a game.”


He also has an appreciation for every moment he’s out there after suffering a frightening spinal cord concussion that temporarily paralyzed him in the second game of his third season.


Landry couldn’t move for 10-15 minutes before the feeling in his extremities returned. He missed the rest of the 2008 season before returning the following year. He has started 82 consecutive games since coming back from fusion surgery.


Landry has played all 122 defensive snaps in the first two weeks. On most days, he slides in and out of the locker room without saying a word, Casper the Friendly Ghost, going about his business with quiet dignity.


But sometimes when the moment is right at practice, he’ll pick up a football with his left hand and let it fly to remind the young guys who he used to be.


“I still got it,” he’ll tell them.


They’ll listen like they always do.


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