FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Todd Bowles had just finished his first full practice of voluntary minicamp when he offered a glowing assessment of his New York Jets.
”We probably can function in a touch football league right now,” the first-year head coach said with a smile Tuesday.
It’s only April, of course, and teams are simply in the beginning phases of getting to know their personnel on the field. No pads or intricate game plans just yet.
For Bowles, it’s the first step in trying to turn around the fortunes of a team that went 4-12 last season, fired coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik and revamped its front office, coaching staff and roster during the past four months.
”First day, nobody’s going to make the team in shorts and T-shirts,” Bowles said. ”So, there’s no promotions or demotions going on. It’s just a matter of learning the system offensively and defensively.”
Bowles was hired in January by the Jets and new GM Mike Maccagnan after 15 years as an NFL assistant, including the past two with Arizona.
The 51-year-old former NFL defensive back developed a reputation for being a bright defensive-minded coach with the ability to get the most out of his players, something that led him to being selected as the AP NFL Assistant Coach of the Year in February.
He isn’t the laugh-a-minute presence Ryan was during his six years in New York, making nearly every one of his news conferences must-see events. Bowles appears personable but straight to the point – and that’s something the players appreciate.
”I’m excited,” center Nick Mangold said. ”No nonsense. It’s going to be fun getting to know him and learn from him. Some of the stuff we’re seeing on defense already is interesting.”
Wide receiver Eric Decker had a similar positive first impression.
”I love him,” he said of Bowles. ”He’s a great guy. The guy’s played the game and obviously had a lot of success as a coordinator and as a coach. There’s a lot of respect for the guy, you can tell already, throughout the locker room.”
The Jets are preparing for the draft, which kicks off Thursday night, while also assessing their team during the three-day minicamp.
Brandon Marshall, acquired from Chicago last month, was on the field catching passes from Geno Smith, whose job as the starter is tenuous with the presence of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick – and the possibility that the Jets could try to draft Oregon’s Marcus Mariota with the No. 6 overall pick.
Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson wasn’t in attendance, as expected, as he waits for a new contract. Safety Calvin Pryor, defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson and wide receiver Jeremy Kerley also weren’t present, but Bowles wasn’t concerned by any of the absent players.
”It’s voluntary minicamp,” the coach said, ”and they had to do some things they had to take care of.”
It’s a little more involved with Wilkerson, whose agent has said the star defensive lineman will sit out all voluntary sessions this offseason.
Wilkerson, who has been one of the team’s bright spots the past few seasons, is scheduled to make $6.96 million this year. ESPN reported that at least two teams had approached the Jets about acquiring Wilkerson, something Bowles downplayed.
”To hear something that might be rumored at draft time, this is probably my 15th year coaching and I’ve probably heard everything about everybody on every team,” Bowles said. ”So I can’t even comment on that. Mo’s on our team, and we go from there.”
The Jets’ secondary, a glaring weakness last season, was rebuilt with cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine, and safety Marcus Gilchrist all signed in free agency. Revis is in his second stint with the Jets after helping the rival Patriots win a Super Bowl last season.
He spent his first six seasons in New York before being traded to Tampa Bay in 2013 following a contract dispute. And, as far as the 29-year-old Revis is concerned, the best is still yet to come.
”You know what? I think I’m better than I was before, when I played earlier in my career,” Revis said. ”I think I’m more way more intelligent in the position. I had a great learning experience last year.”
That possibility certainly excites Bowles, who uses a blitz-heavy defense and needs a shutdown-type corner – like Revis – to be fully effective.
”His work ethic is making everybody better,” Bowles said. ”He’s not just a man player. I think he’s good for the rest of the guys.”
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