CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Let's face it: Not much is expected of these New York Jets.
Oh, there's a quarterback competition, of course. There will be headlines generated by some sort of locker room drama, either real or contrived or somewhere in between. Rex Ryan will say something -- he always does, right? -- and the Jets remain likelier than the Giants to dominate the back pages of the New York tabloids and sports talk radio.
But on the field? Expectations couldn't be lower. Will they win six games? Four? Would a .500 record represent a football miracle? Bottom line: Does this group even have a chance?
The overwhelming answer to that last question seems to be no. At least outside the confines of 1 Jets Drive. And, for the better part of the next three weeks, SUNY Cortland.
So, as they reported to training camp Thursday, what did the Jets have to say about all of this? How did they respond to their naysayers?
The answers: nothing, and they didn't.
"It honestly doesn't affect what we do here," said quarterback Mark Sanchez, who will have to hold off rookie Geno Smith to keep his job. Sanchez added, "The outside expectations don't bother us at all."
Said cornerback Antonio Cromartie: "You can't worry about what everyone expects and what people think on the outside. It's about us and only about us."
For the record, Sanchez spoke in his usual even tones, with an occasional smile and while wearing the ever-present headband. A grinning Cromartie could not have seemed more content.
A year ago, the Jets would have handled this differently. Someone -- the now-departed Bart Scott would be the prime guess -- would have either predicted, loudly, that the critics would eat crow or would have illustrated his disdain for the media by refusing to talk at all.
This year is different. Where outsiders see a season likely headed for doom, these Jets are embracing opportunity. Where some see certain defeat, Rex Ryan and his players are highlighting competition. As Ryan noted Thursday, the Jets might have as many as 13 new starters, including perhaps eight on defense.
Essentially, the Jets have posted the equivalent of a "Help Wanted" sign, and everyone in the locker room should know it.
There is, Ryan said, "a great chance here. Is there really a player on this team that has no chance of being on the (53-man roster) or developmental squad? I don't think there is."
He added: "I don't know if there is ever going to (be) more competition than we're going to have this training camp."
There are plenty of jobs to be won, and there are players on the inside track for some of them. Chris Ivory was an expendable running back for the New Orleans Saints, who traded him to the Jets in April. He'll battle for carries with Joe McKnight (who finally passed his conditioning test Friday), Bilal Powell and possibly Mike Goodson, who hasn't reported because of issues that are, apparently, in addition to his legal troubles.
Veteran Braylon Edwards, who was just signed, said he intends to start and believes the Jets "definitely" have playoff potential. He should help a receiving corps that failed to make even routine catches in the spring, is led by Jeremy Kerley and remains without Santonio Holmes, not yet cleared to practice (foot surgery).
"Here we are again," Edwards said, "with another chance to make some magic."
And then there's the defense, where Ryan is also trying to rework his magic with a group that has more youth, speed and versatility than in years past. It is also long on inexperience and can no longer count on Darrelle Revis, upon whom the Jets schemes were heavily dependent.
Ryan is trying to turn defensive lineman Quinton Coples into an outside linebacker, a scenario the 2012 first-round draft pick has embraced: "It's a great opportunity for me to showcase my talents."
And Ryan is trying to turn a group of young players into a defense that can overcome what are almost certain to be offensive shortcomings, even as offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg represents a considerable upgrade from Tony Sparano. (The Jets have lost 13 of their past 19 games. In 12 of the 13 losses, they have failed to score 20 points.)
Rookie Sheldon Richardson, the No. 13 overall pick, should start along the line, or contribute a lot. Fellow first-rounder Dee Milliner is expected to start opposite Cromartie, filling the Revis void. Milliner, taken ninth overall, has yet to agree to a contract and did not report Thursday, which Ryan said "disappointed" him.
The defense, ultimately, might be led by second-year linebacker DeMario Davis, the heavy favorite to replace Scott.
"It's not just an opportunity," Davis said. "It's a tremendous opportunity."
Davis provides speed and athleticism at linebacker, qualities the Jets have lacked in recent years. He got Ryan's attention early; after the Jets drafted Davis in the third round of the 2012 draft, Ryan said Davis reminded him of Ray Lewis in terms of intangibles.
Davis doesn't run from the comparison. "I don't have to try to be that," he said. "It's who I am as a leader."
Coaches, he added, want him to be more vocal with teammates, more energetic on the field. It's an adjustment Davis said he feels comfortable making in his second season.
"The coaches are counting on me not just to be a solid starter," he said, "but to be a dominant force in this league."
There was nothing boisterous about Davis' demeanor. He was speaking quietly, to an audience of one. It was as if he truly believes.
Maybe that is what the Jets need right now. It's still July. They'd better believe in themselves. Outside expectations be darned.
Follow Kim Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports