FLORHAM PARK - The Jets knew all about Jachai Polite's disastrous appearance at the Combine in February. They knew that's the only reason he was still available for them to draft in the third round.
They still knew it was a risk. But they also knew that if it worked out, he could be the dominating pass rusher they've been seeking for several seasons.
And that's all Adam Gase cares about when it comes to the 21-year-old edge rusher. He cares about his potential. He cares about what happens next.
He doesn't care about anything that happened in the past.
"Right now we've got pretty much a guy with a fresh start," Gase said at the start of his team's Rookie Orientation program on Friday. "Whatever happened in the past is irrelevant to me. Moving forward, it's going to be on him to do the right things, show up every day, being on time, practice hard, do what he needs to do.
"If he does that, it'll be smooth sailing."
Whether it is or not will be the key to determining whether the Jets' 2019 draft was a success. Picking Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams third overall was easy, and the payoff is likely to be high. But the 6-foot-3, 258-pound Polite was their second pick in the draft, and he came with so much baggage and so many questions after what he called a "humbling" pre-draft experience, that according to NFL sources, he was completely off some team's boards.
The Jets were obviously more tolerant than most.
"I don't think a lot of us had it all figured out at 21," Gase said. "I spent a lot of time with him when he came here on a visit. Our coaching staff spent a lot of time with him. Our personnel staff spent a lot of time with him. I like the way our players are ready to help him out and make sure he's doing the right thing and keeping him on track."
In theory, that shouldn't be that hard considering Polite's crimes weren't crimes, which is important to note since he's often painted as a bad guy. What concerned NFL teams the most was his attitude and his seeming lack of commitment to getting ready for the NFL scouting combine - basically a job interview for the NFL draft.
He showed up in Indianapolis in February for that with the reputation of being an athletic freak. Then he started by running a surprisingly low 4.84 in the 40-yard dash, looking out of shape, and then pulling out with a hamstring injury he claimed he suffered two weeks earlier.
And then things got worse.
He turned off some teams with a confrontational attitude in interviews with GMs and coaches, according to some NFL sources. Then, he aired his grievances when he spoke to the media, accusing some teams of doing nothing but "bashing" him in those private talks. If that wasn't bad enough, he ran again at his Pro Day a month later and his on-field performance was even worse.
That's why one NFL scout described him as a "first-round talent, first-class headache."
But for what it's worth, Polite seems to get it. He understood he showed a startling lack of maturity in what was his introduction to the 32 NFL teams. He knows that probably cost him at least one round, maybe two in the draft.
"It just opened my eyes," he said. "Just a humbling experience."
Asked what specifically his eyes had been opened to this offseason, he said "Things that I was doing, that I did in college. Just immature stuff."
Of course, it's easy to realize and say that now. What matters is what he does next, how he acts. What happens the first time the Jets are on a losing streak or his play slips, and he's surrounded by the New York media wondering what's gone wrong? Will he handle that any better than he handled the tough questions at the Combine? And if he couldn't get himself fully ready for the Combine, can the Jets trust him to get fully ready for Week 1?
The Jets say yes, and so does Polite. And if they're right, the pass-rush-needy Jets got a player who had 11 sacks and 19 ½ tackles for a loss in the SEC last season. He was too fast for most tackles to handle in college, which is why his slow 40 times before the draft were so startling to scouts. If he can regain that form, he'll look great coming off the edge behind Leonard Williams or Henry Anderson. He'll more than fill a position that was the Jets' No. 1 need before the offseason began.
At least that's the hope.
"Until you see a guy in the NFL be able to go against some big players, one on one, you can't say that that guy is an elite pass rusher," Gase said. "But you can see the skill set that this guy has. He's a fun guy to watch."
And the Jets and everyone else will be watching because Polite's actions will speak louder than his words from now on. It's one thing to say he's been humbled. It's another to show it.
If he does, he really could be one of the biggest steals of the draft.