ATLANTA - The youth movement was underway in Florham Park, and at 32, Calvin Pace had been left behind.
After 10 seasons in the NFL, the outside linebacker wasn't surprised when the Jets released him and his hefty contract in February, nor was Pace caught off guard when the team parted ways with three other members of its front seven and lost another, Mike DeVito, to free agency.
With the April selection of first-rounder Sheldon Richardson and the promotions of former backups Damon Harrison and Demario Davis, the average age of the Jets' front seven is 25.3, down from 29.7 in 2012. And except for Pace and David Harris, 29, the unit's other starters are 24 or younger.
Not surprisingly, the 6-4, 265-pound Pace knows he's on borrowed time. In April, he agreed to a significant pay cut and a one-year, $1.005-million deal.
"When you're sitting around jobless, you have to be real with yourself and kind of get on their level," he said after the Jets' Week 3 win over the Bills.
Pace -- a man of few words on the field and even fewer with the media -- said he has no choice but to keep up with the young bucks on the defense. And he's been doing just that, his teammates said.
He's second on the team with 21/2 sacks in four games (Muhammad Wilkerson has three), and Pace also has 14 tackles. Last season, Pace mustered only three sacks and 55 total tackles.
"Any time you're looked at as the old guy or veteran, there's always pressure for you to go out there and want to prove yourself," Harris said of Pace, who turns 33 in two weeks. "I feel like Calvin is walking around with that chip on his shoulder. He's been playing lights out for us, and you can really tell by the way he plays on Sunday -- even in practice."
Said Pace: "There's such a youth movement in the NFL, so I guess that will make you faster. A lot of these guys are 21, 22 years old. They're supposed to be fast at that age. I had to keep up with them, man."
He has, however, been criticized over the years for his lack of production since recording eight sacks in his suspension-shortened 2009 season. Since then, Pace's highest sack total was 51/2. And in Week 3 against Buffalo, his failure to wrap up Fred Jackson led to a 59-yard run.
Despite the occasional misstep this season, fellow defensive players rave about Pace's work ethic and his rare longevity in an injury-plagued profession.
"I don't see a change in his game," fellow outside linebacker Garrett McIntyre said. "The way he approaches the game, every year, is like a true professional. He comes in every day. He's seen a lot, too. There's not much the dude hasn't seen in 11 years. You can throw anything you want at him.
"I admire him because he never really panics, he's always under control, he knows what he's doing.
"I think he still comes to work the same way he's probably done the last 10 years, and that's the reason he's been playing so long -- the way he comes to work."
Richardson said of the Jackson play: "That missed tackle was the first one I've seen him miss since I've been here, from OTAs until now."
That's why the rookie lineman isn't tempted to crack old-guy jokes at Pace's expense.
"He's an O.G.," Richardson said with a smile, playfully using the acronym for "original gangster" to explain Pace's long tenure in the NFL. "Give him crap? Not at all. It's more respect. He's been in the game a long time and he's had a lot of success. And he's still in the game. And it shows."
Like Pace, Harris has an eye on Father Time.
The seven-year veteran, who signed a four-year, $36-million deal in 2011, was the highest-rated inside linebacker for the month of September on ProFootballFocus.com, a statistical website. But Harris said he's always mindful of the age factor.
"I'm old compared to most of them, too," he said with a laugh.