Just one look at the media crowd told Sheldon Richardson all he needed to know.
The Jets defensive end already can tell that the outside expectations for his team are much lower than in recent years. And he’s OK with that.
“I can tell by how many media are here. It’s not what it used to be. Which is perfectly fine. I personally like it that way,” Richardson told Newsday during the Jets’ first week of OTAs.
“ . . . It’s what the organization needed, honestly. To get from underneath the microscope that Rex [Ryan, the Jets’ former head coach] put us under when they went to the AFC Championships, and then that just carried over and then us just going through what we did last year. Now we’re back to redefining who we are as a team. So you really can’t knock that.”
It’s clear what the NFL thinks about the Jets, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2010, and their chances in 2017. After a 5-11 finish last season, Todd Bowles’ team has one prime-time game this year: a Thursday Night Football matchup with Buffalo in Week 9.
But that didn’t stop linebacker David Harris from saying this month that the Jets will catch people off guard in 2017.
“People can say what they want,” Harris said at his annual charity golf outing two weeks ago. “We know we didn’t have the best year last year and we’re a young team. But I think we’re going to surprise some people.”
This past week, his teammates shared similar sentiments.
“Like Sheldon said, it’s a good thing because when people lower their expectations of you — sometimes, even teams — they buy into that and they may underestimate you,” running back Matt Forte said. “I don’t really care about what outside expectations are for us. We have a lot of high expectations on our own. We’ve got a lot to prove.
“Every year you do. Doesn’t matter if you won the Super Bowl or go 0 and 16. It doesn’t matter if you came out and you had the worst season of your career or if you had a Pro Bowl-type season. The next year it’s like, ‘Can he do it again?’ If you had a bad year, [people ask] ‘Did he lose it?’ So we’ve got a lot to prove to ourselves. And that’s the only thing that matters.”
Even with a new quarterback (veteran Josh McCown) and several new assistant coaches, Forte expressed nothing but confidence in the new-look Jets. And that’s largely because of his new coordinator, John Morton.
“When you first talk to him, you can tell the knowledge of football he has,” he said of Morton, who coached under Sean Payton, Jon Gruden and Jim Harbaugh.
“ . . . He knows how to set up plays where you’re not going to be looking at the same thing over and over again.”
The same, however, couldn’t be said for the offense under former coordinator Chan Gailey, whose surprising retirement was announced by the team in early January.
The Jets regressed considerably in Gailey’s second year on the job, averaging 329.2 yards per game (26th), 216.6 passing yards (27th), 112.6 rushing yards (12th) and 17.2 points per game (30th) last season.
Forte, however, said the major roster and coaching staff changes shouldn’t slow the Jets’ progress.
As proof, he highlighted his 2009 Chicago Bears team, which “underachieved” and finished 7-9. The following year, coach Lovie Smith returned along with a new offensive coordinator in Mike Martz, “a whole new offensive line, a new offense and everything,” Forte said.
The result? The Bears went 11-5 in 2010, won the NFC North title and made their first playoff appearance since 2006 before losing to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
According to Forte, the Jets can have the same type of turnaround. But the key, he said, is “playing smart football.”
“The expectations were low for us, but we came out and got on a roll, had some [wins] in a row, gained momentum,” Forte said of his former Bears team. “By the time we were at the bye week, we weren’t even deep into the playbook. We were just doing what we did best. And you can win games like that if you just take care of the football, you do what your team does best, figure out what plays guys like to do best.
“If there’s a nine-man box, we’re not going to run right into it. Let’s call the best play,” Forte added. “It doesn’t matter if you have new coaches or a new coaching staff.”