FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The Jets swear they are not listening to the noise outside of their locker room, where they are surrounded by a near-universal prediction of doom and gloom. Some are bracing for an historic disaster of a season. Some are embracing it, hoping that when the dark clouds disperse there's a rainbow leading to USC quarterback Sam Darnold.
But what if the Jets aren't just in a state of denial? What if they sense something different going on with their rebuilding team? What if their dysfunctional, ugly, 5-11 season last year was rock bottom, and now there really is nowhere to go but up?
OK, maybe it's a stretch. But even the Jets are allowed to have hope in the spring? And it's not that those hopes are completely without reason. Here are five things happening right now that maybe - just maybe - could indicate that things for the Jets are going to be better than they seem:
1. Josh McCown looks sharp and strong - Yes, it's only spring and the quarterbacks are throwing "against air," as Jets coach Todd Bowles has said. Very little can be learned from 7-on-7 drills or even team drills where there's no contact and no defensive schemes.
Still, McCown - for a soon-to-be-38-year-old journeyman who his playing in his 16th season and for his eighth team - hasn't looked mediocre or old this spring. His passes have been sharp and on target and his arm has looked strong. He's also an incredibly positive and vocal leader on the field and is bursting with the energy of a man half his age. His voice can be heard booming with encouragement for his teammates, too, after almost every play.
Does that mean anything? Well, a fresh voice and a little energy is always good. He didn't experience last year's misery, so he doesn't have that dragging him down. And the better he looks, the easier it is to remember that two years ago, in eight starts for the Browns, McCown completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 2,109 yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Twice in the last four years (including 2013 with the Bears), he's put up brilliant - albeit partial - numbers. Maybe it clicks for him in odd-numbered years?
2. John Morton is running a new and diverse offense the players seem to love - Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not to mention the results. Two years ago when the Jets were 10-6 and their offense ranked 10th in the league, no one had a major issue with Chan Gailey's scheme. But last year the offense finished 26th and the team and quarterback were a mess.
Right now there is no way to judge Morton, the new offensive coordinator, and his scheme, but it's not insignificant that his players are energized by what they see. Matt Forte, who felt his role was diminished last season, thinks Morton will use him more on third downs so he can flash his skills as a receiver, and that Morton might even line up him and Bilal Powell together in a two-back set. And the tight ends - remember them? If practice is any indication, Morton intends to include them in his scheme. A lot. And that's a drastic change from the last two years when the tight end was virtually ignored.
The players have to make it work, of course - especially if Morton is really intent on morphing his scheme from week to week to fit their opponent and situation. In the end, it will come down to the talent, particularly at quarterback and along the offensive line.
But a new approach that has re-energized his players can't be a bad thing.
3. Eric Decker looks healthy - At least, he did in the one OTA open to the media. That wasn't a guarantee coming off hip and shoulder surgery. He basically had two major rehabs, with twice the chance for things to go wrong.
But last week, while wearing a red non-contact jersey - seemingly unnecessary for a non-contact practice, but whatever - he looked fast. He made quick cuts. He was knocked down and got back up again. And he caught most of what was thrown his way.
That matters, because when the Jets let Brandon Marshall go they were left with no No. 1 receiver. Yes, they have a stable of young receivers they like - including a third- and fourth-round draft pick -- and Quincy Enunwa seems to be on the verge of a breakthrough. But the 6-3, 206-pound Decker has four seasons of 110-plus catches on his resume (and another with 96 catches).
He is the only true No. 1 receiver the Jets have. And last year, with Decker out and Marshall hurting for most of the season, the Jets really didn't have one at all.
4. Sheldon Richardson is happy and in a contract year - OK, maybe last year's misery was at least partially his own doing and blaming Marshall, his apparent nemesis, isn't fair. Or maybe it is. Regardless, Marshall is gone and Richardson has his "15 reasons" to be happy, and if that's what he needs to not sulk and play with some energy … well, OK. Whatever works.
He also should be plenty motivated too. It's embarrassing enough that the Jets tried to trade him last season and again during the draft and couldn't find a taker (at their price, anyway). It should be even more embarrassing to him that he had only 1 ½ sacks. And he knows that if he wants a huge, Mo Wilkerson-like contract from someone next March he's going to have to do better. Much better.
So he'll have a burr in his saddle, and apparently help from the coaches since defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers has vowed to stop moving Richardson around - including to linebacker - and to let him do what he does best. That theoretically means more of what he did when he was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013, when he lined up as a "3 technique" player and could be turned loose on the quarterback.
Will it work? No one will be more motivated than Richardson to make sure that it does.
5. The purge of veterans has turned into young legs and youthful energy - Here's a hidden truth about sports: It's much harder and uglier for a veteran team to lose, especially after it's had some success. That's what happened last season. The Jets came in, loaded with veterans, with high hopes after a 10-win season, and as soon as things went wrong (during a 1-5 start) they completely fell apart. They became miserable. They lost hope - especially the older players who just couldn't perform like they used to do.
Imagine if some of them had come back for another year? Would Marshall had been any better, healthier or happier in the same situation (and same locker room)? Would Darrelle Revis had come back overflowing with hope? That team almost had to be dismantled if Bowles had any hope of renewing the attitude and optimism in his locker room.
Maybe they're naïve or maybe it's just spring, but players that are left - mostly young ones - have embraced the rebuilding of the Jets. They seem to believe there is hope for the future, maybe even the immediate future. If the same, old, tired, disappointed players had returned this spring and been confronted with predictions of a 2-14 season, would they have responded with energy and enthusiasm?
This team has, in part because they're too young to know any better. Or maybe it's because they really feel they're at the start of something, not the end.