Willie Colon has not played for the Jets since 2015, but the former guard and current SNY analyst still has friends in the locker room, and he liked what he heard from one recently about the improved culture there.
“I talked to a guy on the team who’s been there for a little bit and he goes, ‘Willie, this is the first time I can honestly say that we have peace — no more frauds on the team and no more guys who because of their name or because of their pay grade think they’re better than the plan at hand,’” Colon, a Jet from 2013 to 2015, said.
This was last Friday, hours before the Jets announced they had traded Sheldon Richardson, whose feud with Brandon Marshall was the main event of last season’s locker room soap opera. Now Marshall is a Giant and Richardson is a Seahawk.
Colon did not mention names as he described the changes he has heard about, but he did say they should help a young, talent-challenged roster be competitive.
“This person told me, ‘Believe it or not, we’re having fun,’” Colon said. “’There’s no more drama. Everybody knows where they stand and we’re just gritty and we’re working hard.’ That put a sense of ease on me, knowing that what I’m expecting is a bunch of guys going out there and giving it everything they’ve got.
“They’re not expected to win a lot, but they can sneak out a lot of ugly wins, and that’s what they’re going to have to do, and that’s going to be fun. When I heard there was peace and they’re together and finally at a place where they can grow, I was like, hey, that’s all you can ask for.”
Colon would benefit from a competitive Jets team not only because he still has ties to them but also because his new job calls for him to talk about them professionally.
The former Hofstra player is the newest member of a studio cast that has added a pregame show to its duties this year. Among those Colon will join is the longest-running member, Ray Lucas. Like Colon, Lucas is not predicting great things for the Jets, but he believes the season could be better than expected.
“You look at what they did dismantling their roster and right away you’re going to say, ‘Oh, man, forget it, they don’t have a quarterback, they don’t have this and they don’t have that,’” Lucas said. “But people have to remember that when grown men are in a room together and they go to work every day, and they’re going to fight for each other and die for each other, anything is possible.
“Now, being a realist it does not look good on paper. But guess what? Paper doesn’t play the games. So I’m just going to be really interested to see how Todd [Bowles] pulls this thing together. Were there things done in this offseason that I didn’t care for at all? Yes.
“The way they treated David Harris made me very upset. Nick Mangold, you don’t even ask if he wants to take a pay cut, you just cut him? Stuff like that. But just remember: Those guys work their tails off to go out on Sunday and have some fun.”
He added, “Are they going to the playoffs? I’m not crowning them right now. But at the same time there are some pieces of the puzzle, even though they’re young, where I think they can shock some people.”
Colon said he and Lucas attended the preseason lunch at which Bowles was asked about the theme for the coming season, and, said Colon, “It’s pretty much out with the old and in the new.”
He proceeded to give a quick rundown of the roster, seeing potential at most spots.
“There’s a lot of young talent,” he said. “There are a lot of guys who I feel in two or three years can be talented weapons for the Jets . . . I like a lot of things I see.”
Both former Jets endorsed Bowles’ decision to start Josh McCown at quarterback for the opener, but Colon has a clear preference for McCown’s backup in Buffalo that day.
“I’m not saying Hackenberg can’t play in this league,” he said. “I’m not saying he can’t do anything. He’s 6-4. He’s mobile. He’s got a big-time arm. But he’s just not ready. I’m going to jump out there and say Bryce Petty should be the No. 2, hands down.
“When you talk about what Bryce Petty has had to deal with this summer, coming off a shoulder injury, and it’s only been about Hackenberg. His reps have been limited. He’s been thrown in the back burner. He’s been able to fight back out of all of that, playing well in practice.
“He had a great game against the Giants when there was literally nobody on the field to throw to and he made a comeback run. Bryce should be the No. 2. I don’t understand why people are scratching their heads about it.
“I talked to some of the guys in the locker room who say, ‘Hey, when Bryce is out there with the No. 1s he’s lighting it up. There’s a sense of confidence and a sense of moxie . . . I think he’s constantly getting overlooked. If you invest in him and just believe in what he can do, this kid is tough. The guys in the locker room like him a lot.”
Those are the sorts of insights the Jets hope Colon will provide as someone who played in the NFL so recently.
“Willie is one of those offensive linemen I would have loved to play with, just nasty when he puts his helmet on and wants to destroy the person across from him,” said Lucas, who last played in 2002. “He just stopped playing. He has a lot of knowledge of everybody in that Jets facility and that locker room. That’s something that Willie brings that all of us can’t do. He’s got those relationships.
“So he’s got the knowledge, and he’s not afraid to say what’s on his mind, which is how I do it. You’re going to get some real talk on Sundays, pregame and postgame. It’s going to be real.”
Lucas said he is looking forward to the pregame show, a space local channels normally cede to the national networks’ pregame extravaganzas. SNY could fill a void for fans, because the Jets are unlikely to be a topic of much conversation on national shows.
“This is my 12th year at SNY and we’ve never had anything telling people exactly what to expect,” Lucas said. “It’s always reaction. I think it will be good. I think the fans are going to like it.”
Colon, 34, grew up in the Bronx and won a Super Bowl as a Steeler. He did not play last season but did not officially retire until this year.
“It’s always hard,” he said. “If it were up to me, obviously I’d still be playing. But my knees had other plans. I’ve been really fortunate for the platform SNY has given me, just to be on with Ray Lucas and Jonas [Schwartz] and Westie [Mike Westhoff] and Erik [Coleman] and those guys.
“They’ve made it a home for me and allowed me to just come on there and pretty much fit in and feel a part of the family. I’m blessed to have those guys. They’ve made it an easy transition.”
What did Jets players of Colon’s era think of SNY’s studio crew, which is known for pointed commentary? Colon said some players heard the negatives secondhand from friends and relatives, but he did not pay much attention.
“I’ve always said, as a ballplayer, if you’re spending half your day checking Twitter or social media about who’s criticizing you, your game [expletive],” he said. “You should only focus on your job and being the best you can be. That’s how I think I’ve always approached it. I never listened to the criticism.”