FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Despite his Super Bowl ring and nine years of NFL experience, Willie Colon doesn't assume a starting job will be waiting for him in training camp.
While the Jets' veteran right guard has been sidelined by injury, second-year offensive linemen Brian Winters and Oday Aboushi have been getting plenty of reps at right and left guard. And Colon is well aware that his time away from the practice field can only hurt his chances of reclaiming his spot on the right side.
"I wouldn't be surprised if you see Oday, Winters and, even me -- all three of us -- kind of fighting it out," Colon told Newsday after the team's first mandatory minicamp practice Tuesday. "It's just a matter of you want to play your best five [offensive linemen].
"I always put myself in the competition battle," added the Bronx native and Hofstra product. "I don't take it for granted. And I think for me, coming off a knee [injury], it's just the way I think. It's just a sense of urgency I have. So whoever's the best three in the middle -- obviously we know [center] Nick [Mangold] is going to be in there -- but we're all up for grabs."
Colon, who recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee, said he expects to be "full go" by training camp in late July. Though his knee is "coming along," he said the goal is to "get it back strong again so I can function." Colon also suffered a torn biceps in the Jets' regular-season finale in 2013.
Signed last offseason after the departures of Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson, Colon instantly became a locker room and fan favorite because of his gritty, hard-nosed style of play. But at age 31, Colon said he still has to show the Jets he deserves to be a starter.
"I do feel I've got a lot to prove," he said. "More so this year because they expected me to know more and they expected me to now be on the level of Nick and Brick [left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson], as far as mentally. So I think they know I'm going to go out there and fight, I'm going to scrap, I'm going to play my tail off. But now it's like, all right, what can you bring to the table mentally? OK, we know you're tough, but can you be smart and tough and bring it all together and be the total package?
"So I've definitely got to prove myself more this year. That's my attitude."
Winters worked at the right guard spot on Tuesday while Aboushi got reps at left guard. Though Winters struggled at times last season after supplanting Vladimir Ducasse, the former third-round pick said he's "1,000 steps ahead of where I was last year.
"I definitely think that the game's slowing down big-time for me," Winters added. "It doesn't matter which side I'm on now, I feel comfortable at both. Seeing the big picture has really helped me. Everything's a lot slower for me."
And that's a good thing, considering his linemates are depending on him after the free-agent defection of right tackle Austin Howard and the offseason signing of former Seahawk Breno Giacomini.
"They rely on me," Winters said. "I feel like Nick is more confident in me because I know my assignments, I know what I'm doing. There's still a lot more work to be done, but they definitely feel like I've stepped up, so it's a good feeling."
Asked about Winters being used primarily at right guard during organized team activities, coach Rex Ryan explained that he and the coaches are "looking at what can help us. Could he be better at right guard and Willie at left guard? Whatever it is, we're letting those guys compete."
Colon expressed confidence in Winters even before the Kent State product earned the starting left guard job last season. And now, it appears they could be battling for the same spot.
"I have the utmost respect for Willie. He's taught me a lot," Winters said. "I feel like we're definitely going to compete. Oday's a great player. He's coming along this year, so it's going to be fun.
"We're all buddies. We lean on each other and Willie's helped me so much. At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter. I'm just going to continue working as hard as I can."