FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - No. 66 in the white jersey lined up at right guard, the brutal sun beating on his helmet and 32-year-old body in the heat of an afternoon practice.

It was 92 degrees. No sweat.

"It's training camp," Willie Colon said. "I'm used to it. I've been through enough. I know how it is."

But this camp has been a little different for the 6-3, 315-pound player who rose out of the tough Melrose Houses in the South Bronx and then Hofstra to win a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers and start every game for the Jets the past two seasons.

After experiencing some nerve-wracking uncertainty over whether the Jets would re-sign him, here he was, a veteran forced to compete to make the team, let alone start. But Colon has been winning the fight, running with the first string since the beginning of last week after opening camp on the physically unable to perform list because of a knee issue.

"He's been playing better than everybody else so far, so he gets the lion's share of the reps," Todd Bowles said.

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The Jets' first-year coach said he isn't ready to declare a winner yet. Colon has mainly been competing with Brian Winters and Brent Qvale for the starting spot. So Colon heads into the second game of the preseason Friday night against the Falcons taking nothing for granted.

"I just want to finish it, finish healthy, finish it strong, just really leaving a statement that I'm the man for the position," Colon said.

The thing that Colon needs to avoid is his knack for having yellow flags fly in his direction. He had an NFL-leading 14 penalties last season for guards. But he brings a quality to the field that Bowles likes.

"He brings a lot of toughness," Bowles said. "So far, he looks good. His knees have been holding up. He's been upbeat. He's one of the most talkative guys in camp. He makes every day festive and he plays like that. He's one of the older guys, but he's got one of the younger spirits."

He's also got the spirit of a leader. Just ask the guy next door.

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"He's been in a lot of battles, as tough as they come," right tackle Breno Giacomini said. "A lot of guys look up to him. He's a strong voice in our locker room."

"I try to be more about actions than words," Colon said. "When it needs to step up vocally, I know I have the ability to do it."

Colon has dreams of vocalizing his insight as a TV analyst or on sports talk radio. He said he even has some things in the works for this season.

But as Colon put it: "I'm not ready to put my helmet away yet."