As Steve McLendon enters his 11th NFL training camp, and fourth with the Jets, he does so in a new role.
For the first time since 2012, McLendon will not be entering camp as a clear-cut starter. However, his trademark sunny outlook on another first day of work hasn't changed a bit.
"It's amazing to be here today in front of all of you, to be back in this organization once again to do what I love, and what I love best is playing this game called football," McLendon said Wednesday morning in his typical preacher-esque fashion.
There's a good reason McLendon still loves playing football. He's the Jets' best run defender, and although he has just 10 sacks over nine seasons, that's not his job. Instead, his job is to stuff the run as a nose tackle, and he can still do it with the best of them.
McLendon also loves developing young people, whether they are football players or not. After talking at length about the three mantras he instills in his sons (1. Rule Number One - don't be Number Two, 2. We are champions, 3. Work ethic eliminates fear), McLendon shared some of what he tells young Jets players.
"I tell every young man in this locker room - you are not a failure," McLendon said. "You are playing this game on the field and off the field called life, you're playing to be a champion. You always want to be a winner. So that's where these guys are coming from, and we're playing this game, but the most important thing is today, showing up. … Being accountable. Being here. Having a great attitude every single day. That's my expectation."
Notably, the man expected to steal some of McLendon's snaps, No. 3 overall draft pick Quinnen Williams, did not show up to camp today while negotiating his rookie contract. However, McLendon is willing to make an exception for Williams, calling his absence "business."
"Oh no, it's not disappointing [that Williams isn't at camp]," McLendon said. "When he gets here, whenever it is, however that situation folds out, and once he gets in, he's going to be rocking and rolling. He's going to be ready, and the reason he's going to be ready is not just me and the coaching staff, but the other fellas in this locker room. We're going to put everything on him, help him get all the answers to the test because we know we're going to need him this year to play."
As far as his relationship with Williams goes, McLendon is comfortable in his role as mentor, even if he preferred that it came with a different title.
"I talked to him a little bit this offseason," McLendon said. "I try not to smother these guys because they are already looking at me like a father figure instead of a big brother. I'd rather be looked at as a big brother than a father figure."
No matter what the young Jets refer to McLendon as, it's clear that his veteran influence and leadership was a key reason why he was brought back this season. Just through offseason training programs, McLendon can already see a difference in the team's mentality under new coach Adam Gase.
"We have a better mindset right now, I feel like, because guys are buying in," McLendon said. "But that's just business, man. Stuff changes, people change, but the good thing is that we have the opportunity to get better today.
"It's going to be an exciting season."