In a quiet corner of the Jets' locker room, Sheldon Richardson and Stephen Bowen sat side by side, grinning ear to ear.
Bowen had spent the past five weeks counting down the games until the Jets' defensive line would be whole again. And now Richardson's 2015 debut finally is here. And the Jets couldn't be happier.
"I was thinking, 'Man, once we're full force," Bowen told Newsday, "it's going to be really scary."
The Jets, however, are under no illusions about the position the defensive tackle is in. Richardson, who served a four-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy, isn't guaranteed to start on Sunday against Washington. Nor does it appear as if he'll see significant playing time in his first game back.
"Depending on what package they come out in, he may [start]," coach Todd Bowles said. " . . . He won't play the entire game. I don't think any of them will. We'll platoon them and rotate those guys and see how fresh they are.''
Asked about Richardson's expected play total, Bowles said: "Twenty is a significant amount. But five or 10, he should get more than that."
Washington (2-3) will arrive at MetLife Stadium with its own stout defensive line, anchored by 354-pound nose tackle Terrance Knighton.
Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said facing Washington's front seven "will be our biggest challenge offensively." But Washington will be without wide receiver DeSean Jackson, starting cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Chris Culliver and three-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Trent Williams.
Bowles, however, wouldn't acknowledge that an injury-plagued opponent is an inherent advantage. "I think if you take people lightly,'' he said, "they're gonna try to kick your butt."
But Williams' absence is a huge blow for Washington and a major plus for a Jets defensive line that is able and eager to get after quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has thrown two interceptions in each of their three losses.
"You better know that we're coming on every play," defensive lineman Leger Douzable said when asked about opposing offenses having to face a combination of Muhammad Wilkerson, rookie Leonard Williams, Damon Harrison, Richardson, Bowen, T.J. Barnes and himself. "We're so deep, we're going to get a fresh guy every single play.
"It's not like there's only two or three guys that can play. There's five or six of us that are going to be rotating constantly trying to get after the quarterback, stopping the run.
"This is one of the deepest D-lines -- and defenses, period -- that I've ever been on in my eight-year career," he added.
Bowen, who played for Half Hollow Hills West and Hofstra, acknowledged that every unit wants to dominate. "I think everybody in the league thinks they have the best D-line," he said.
"Even if they are trash," Richardson added.
The Jets' defense, however, isn't concerned with how good it looks on paper. The key, Bowen said, is showcasing their defensive line talent every week. "The more that we keep playing, people are going to start gunning for us," he said. "But we've just got to keep stepping up to the plate.''
Richardson, the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year, had eight sacks, 67 tackles and a forced fumble in 2014. His absence has resulted in more playing time for Williams, the sixth overall pick. "I'm trying to earn my spot back," Richardson said.
He also stressed that he won't be "overzealous" or overcome with anxiety on Sunday. "Yes, I'm happy to be back, but I also know I was great at doing the little things, just staying my gap, always causing pressure, always causing disruption in the backfield," Richardson said. "That's just how I always play. And I think that's what sets me apart from everyone else. I make room for everybody else and vice versa. We eat off each other.''