FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Practice is over for the day, and Jets first-year coach Todd Bowles is standing in a hallway just outside the cafeteria talking about why he is convinced that the yapping we've been hearing from inside his locker room is not a problem, nor will it be an issue.
He has inherited a team from a coach who never met a microphone he didn't like and had no problem with his players expressing themselves in colorful terms. In fact, Rex Ryan encouraged much of the back page, headline-producing talk during his six seasons with the Jets. And this sure has sounded like Ryan's locker room the last two weeks:
Outspoken guard Willie Colon told SiriusXM radio that the Jets' refurbished roster is like a Porsche that quarterback Geno Smith can't afford to crash.
Antonio Cromartie, a longtime motor-mouth who is back after spending a year in Arizona, suggested that Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is overrated. Cromartie also commandeered a TV microphone and half-kiddingly asked teammate Dee Milliner if he was concerned about his roster spot, and then got into a heated Twitter back-and-forth with former Jets tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.
And third-year defensive end Sheldon Richardson boasted during an interview on NFL Network that the best player in the league last year was . . . Sheldon Richardson.
Considering Bowles comes from the Bill Parcells school of coaching, where the mantra "just shut up and play" was drummed into Bowles' head by the Hall of Fame coach, this all seems out of place.
"Not at all," Bowles said when I asked if he was concerned if the brash talk would be a detriment to his team. "I've talked to a lot of these guys going forward, and as we get to know each other, they understand what I want and I understand what they want. You want them to have a cockiness and a swagger, but not to the detriment of the team. If you don't have anything nice to say about a teammate, don't say anything."
That last sentence was the subject of a team meeting on June 1, when Bowles told his players he doesn't want to hear any public airing of grievances about teammates. Colon, Cromartie and Leger Douzable were not in the room that day but were at the NFL's annual "Broadcast Boot Camp" at NFL Films headquarters in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. A day later, Colon offered his biting assessment of Smith.
All three players were spoken to by Bowles when they returned later in the week.
t was a timely teaching moment for the rookie coach. In fact, this may have been one of the most important takeaways from the offseason: The talking he wants to see and hear should be on the field, and not in the media.
"You don't want to muzzle your guys, and you don't want them to be robots, either," Bowles said. "But they have to respect the locker room. I want older guys who can kind of control the locker room from a respect factor, and the younger guys to learn how to be pros. The guys understand that. We've had those conversations."
Cromartie evidently needed another talking-to after his Twitter imbroglio with Winslow, but the veteran cornerback got the point. When approached by reporters Thursday, he said he would take only football-related questions.
"I was going to have those conversations anyway, not just when something happened," Bowles said. "You always try to prepare them for things that are coming or could come and what you want or don't want. You're not going to get that out in a couple of weeks. That takes time. If something leaks here or there, that doesn't mean you lost control. That just means the conversations just didn't go through as well at that time, or you didn't have them at that time.
"Our guys are fine. They're not problems at all, and we have a very controlled locker room. You make sure that everybody gets the message that we're trying to convey."Parcells and Cardinals coach Bruce Arians have been the biggest influences on Bowles, and both coaches never have been shy about expressing their opinions. Bowles is a much more soft-spoken coach, but there is an inner confidence in him.
"Bruce always taught me to be myself," Bowles said. "Whatever you are, that's what you be. I can't be Bruce. I can't be Bill, nor do I want to be."
"Bill coached at a time when you could do that and get away with it. Now, somebody would probably hit him across the head with a chair. Bruce is unmuzzled because that's his personality and his persona. Mine's a little different than that. That doesn't mean I'm not as cocky, but probably from the inside."
Bottom line: Bowles will make his team strike the right balance with the words they use. "I'm comfortable communicating my message with the team," he said. "We're fine."
The unspoken message from Parcells' protege: Shut up and play.