With every step, Bilal Powell's feet sank deeper into the sand.
His movements were quick and sharp. Each stride was taken with a purpose.
During the offseason, the Jets running back used an Alabama beach as his own private training ground during a week-and-a-half-long family vacation. And when given the chance to get back to his alma mater, Louisville, Powell used the campus volleyball sand pits as his personal gym.
"I tried to switch it up a little bit,'' Powell said, adding that he's incorporated more resistance work and "quick-feet, quick-tempo things'' into his workout routine.
Everything Powell does is geared toward getting better. That's his goal every offseason, and the addition of former 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson to the Jets' roster didn't change Powell's expectations for himself. The 2011 fourth-round pick has seen several running backs come and go, and he knows production is the only way for him to stick around.
Powell has never felt like a No. 1 back in the Jets' offense.
That's just the way he likes it.
"You get complacent when you think that way,'' he said. "I always like to be the underdog and I always try to prepare like I'm the underdog no matter what the circumstance is. That just keeps me motivated daily to continue to work hard and improve my game.''
The 25-year-old isn't flashy and he isn't loud. But those closest to him describe him as dependable, hard-working and committed to his craft.
"He does kind of go under the radar, but not around here,'' Geno Smith said. "Nothing he does goes unnoticed.
"From his understanding of the offense, he's very versatile, he can be a pass-catcher, he can be a runner, he can fill in so many spots. And then he's great in pass protection. That's really a key to any running back. And he does those things effortlessly.''
Speaking specifically of Powell during training camp, coach Rex Ryan said: "We don't talk about him [often], but he's just a heck of a back.''
Much of the focus in the preseason has been on Johnson's potential impact in Marty Mornhinweg's offense. The former Titan, who spent the offseason rehabbing from knee surgery, brings speed and dynamic play-making ability to his new running back corps. The Jets are looking for big things from the three-headed monster of Powell, Johnson and Chris Ivory.
Powell's just as excited to see what his group has in store for 2014.
"We're always looking to make each other better every day,'' he said, referring to the friendly competition between the three backs. "And we're cheering each other on with runs. We're encouraging each other and we're trying to attack this thing together.''
Powell said he tries his best each year not to worry about the Jets' offseason signings. Instead, he remains focused on the task at hand. "Every year I'm looking to get better, to improve,'' he said. "Coming into my fourth year, I feel like I really know what they expect. I just work hard every day and try to put myself in a situation to where I can help this team.''
The sand workouts he's added to his training appear to be working. At least that's the impression he got from running backs coach Anthony Lynn.
"I think he noticed,'' Powell said, smiling. "He mentioned that he noticed a little difference in my step. And it's always good when you put in that hard work behind the closed doors and the curtains, and it comes to light and people notice it.''