Bilal Powell can’t wait for the Jets to unleash their rushing attack. The versatility of running back Matt Forte has added a whole new dimension to the offense. And truth be told, Powell isn’t even sure how he’d stop it.
“If I was a defensive coordinator, man, I wouldn’t know,” he said with a smile during an interview with Newsday after Wednesday’s practice. “[Forte] brings a lot of different attributes to the table, and that’s hard to prepare for as a coach.”
Once again, Powell finds himself paired with a new No. 1 back. But rather than be frustrated about the spotlight never finding him, he couldn’t be happier about Forte’s arrival. With Powell, there’s no ego or bravado. Rather than crave attention, he shies away from it.
“There was a saying that I was told: The empty wagon makes the most noise,” he said. “With me, I just like to come out and work hard. I’d rather be seen and not heard.”
He’s gone largely unnoticed since being drafted in the fourth round in 2011, but all the while, he’s proved himself to be a vital piece on offense.
“He looks quicker,” said coach Todd Bowles, who, after his first year on the job, highlighted Powell as one of only two players who pleasantly surprised him last season. “He keeps his mouth shut, he’s very smart, he’s very studious and he’s very attentive.”
Powell has seen running backs LaDainian Tomlinson, Shonn Greene, Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory come and go, but he’s managed to remain in green and white for six seasons. This past offseason, he signed a three-year, $11.25-million deal to return.
Only he and Muhammad Wilkerson are left from their six-player draft class. In the course of Powell’s tenure, he’s developed a reputation of being versatile, dependable and dedicated to his craft.
“I take pride in that, deeply. For one, my hat’s off to the organization for sticking with me,” he said with a laugh. “Because I’ve seen different kinds of No. 1 running backs come in and out. But I don’t let none of that define who I am as a person or my work ethic.
“Every year I’m going to say it: Every time my number’s called, I’m prepared, I’m ready.”
Despite being the No. 2 behind Ivory last season, Powell had 313 yards and a touchdown on 70 carries. More impressively, he was third in receptions (47) behind star receivers Brandon Marshall (109) and Eric Decker (80). But this year, Powell is anxious to see a lot of Forte catches out of the backfield.
“He was one of the most underrated players as long as he’s been playing,” he said of the 30-year-old. “If you look at his numbers and what he did consistently, he’s one of the best players up to this point. He’s exciting to watch at practice. He’s able to catch the ball, he’s able to do everything. So I’m just excited to see what we can do and see how teams prepare for that.”
As a free agent during the offseason, Powell could have signed elsewhere, including New England. But he wanted to come back to the Jets, who went 10-6, because “I saw what we had and I believed in it.”
He also has unfinished business. During the five-game winning streak from Weeks 12-16, Powell ran for 162 yards (5.8 average) and a TD and had 27 catches for 232 yards and two scores. But a high ankle sprain kept him out of the season finale at Buffalo, a game in which a win would have guaranteed the Jets the final AFC wild card. Instead, they lost, 22-17.
As a result, he attacked his offseason training even harder.
“I can’t speak for everybody else, but I used that as motivation for this upcoming year,” said Powell, who added more band-resistance training because he wanted “long, lean muscle.”
“Just to be sitting home in January and February, it hurt. Especially when you’re watching teams in the playoffs that you know you can play with. Because we were talented all across the board last year.”