CORTLAND, N.Y. -- The temperature over the last few days has been unseasonably chilly at the New York Jets' summer home in upstate New York, which is really interesting when you consider the amount of hot air emanating from their training camp.
The Jets are talking like they've won something recently, as if they're a dominant fixture on the NFL landscape. They're not. When you miss the playoffs for three straight years -- heck, when you go three consecutive years without a winning record -- you're a speck on the landscape. They should pipe down, because the franchise's credibility takes a hit every time someone makes a bold proclamation. You shouldn't brag about what you're going to do unless you've already done it before.
Plus, it's only July for crying out loud.
Rex Ryan's bravado was refreshing when he took over in 2009 because the franchise was suffering from a confidence crisis in the aftermath of Eric Mangini. Ryan's swagger created energy, and he made the Jets believe they weren't the "Same Old Jets" anymore. They came within one game of the Super Bowl, and suddenly all the talking didn't seem so outrageous because they were a legitimate contender. They darn near made the Super Bowl in 2010, too.
Now they're a wannabe, a middle-of-the-road team that could be special if a half-dozen or so promising players take huge steps in 2014. Until then, the Jets should be seen and not heard. Too much self-confidence can lead to complacency, which can spread like mold in a damp basement.
"Our goals are extremely high," said one of those players, linebacker Demario Davis, on Wednesday in an interview tent after practice. "The things you're hearing aren't just words, it's coming from a place. It's coming from deep down. We're confident in who we are, but the work has to precede the glory."
Davis gets it. He's a young player who speaks like a seasoned veteran. Listening to him in the tent conjured up memories of Ronnie Lott (circa 1993) and Bryan Cox (1998) and Thomas Jones (2009), locker-room leaders that inspired with words but understood their words didn't have to be in headlines for validation.
On Tuesday, Davis did a radio interview in which he essentially called out his defensive teammates for not working hard enough -- at least not hard enough to be considered the best defense in the league, as linebacker Calvin Pace proclaimed. Davis said "too many people are saying we can be the best defense or we are the best defense, but the work has to show it." Behind closed doors, he talks that way all the time, trying to convince teammates to join him for extra film watching and to hang out with him after practice, doing more work.
"Guys like that, you have no problem following, because he most definitely tries to lead you to the promised land," said defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, claiming that Davis takes it personally if he sees a player loafing on defense.
Amid the white noise, Davis is the voice of reason. Fittingly, he spearheaded one of the best defensive practices in a long time. On the fifth play of team drills, he stepped in front of a wide-receiver screen, made the interception and returned it about 20 yards for a touchdown. That's what you call a tone setter. Four interceptions and a few sacks ensued, as Ryan's beloved defense terrorized the offense.
"Just a perfect day for us," Richardson said.
It was only one play in a July practice, so perspective is in order, but you can't ignore the symbolism. There was an uncommonly mature player, speaking with actions, not words, and later saying the great day will be reduced to "smoke" if the defense can't do it again Thursday.
That should be the stuff of headlines.