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New York Jets' camp-opening good vibes rooted in real change

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It's easy to snicker about the annual dose of optimism permeating the New York Jets. Everybody in the NFL feels energized right now, as teams report for training camp. Every player is in the best shape of his life, every coach is happy with the roster additions, every franchise is hoping to make a big leap. Those are the cliches that drive teams through the summer.

But after an offseason of sweeping and sometimes stunning change, the whiplash is subsiding, and the Jets are finally looking forward. For the first time in nearly a decade -- remember the Rex Ryan era? -- there is warranted excitement and anticipation for what might be coming. The energy around the Jets has increased. Coach Adam Gase walks around the offices charging up the staff, and he said the anticipation for the start of camp this week was so great that the last few days felt like they lasted forever. The Jets badly needed a culture change, and the housecleaning, awkwardly executed though it was, seems to have accomplished it.

For four years, then-coach Todd Bowles and then-general manager Mike Maccagnan oversaw a purposeful dismantling and rebuilding of the roster. That was no secret, but it inevitably dampened expectations before any season even kicked off. It was not glamorous or fun, and after four seasons of turning over the team, squirreling away salary cap space -- and making some bad personnel decisions and coaching some unsightly games -- they didn't get to stick around to see the final results. It is a cruel timeline of the NFL that the people who are charged with cleaning up the mess made by a previous regime are often supplanted by another regime right before the rebound starts.

Gase might get the reward, though. He is starting off with a better roster than Bowles had, and he will get the benefit of former No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold's development at quarterback. As a result, Gase can afford to start with higher expectations now than the Jets had last season, when the entire franchise's primary concern was getting Darnold's rookie-year growing pains out of the way.

"We're going to play meaningful games at the end of November and December. That's what we're going to do," Gase said Wednesday.

Fifty years after Joe Namath, that's as close as the Jets can get to a guarantee right now. Eye-rolling is an understandable response. The Jets haven't played a relevant late-season game since 2015, when a playoff push in Bowles' first campaign fell short. They fired Maccagnan this past May after letting him spend a fortune in free agency and use the third overall draft pick this offseason. Gase himself got the Miami Dolphins to the playoffs just once in three seasons as their head coach. The Jets haven't been to the playoffs since 2010. They have had one winning season since then. In the last three seasons, the Jets have won 14 games total. And there has been a lot of up-with-people blather in between, filling in the spaces where better talent and more creative thinking should have been.

The Jets certainly think they have more of the former and hope they will get more of the latter now. The timing of Maccagnan's firing was rightly roasted. But the end result of chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson's offseason vision is that veteran signees Le'Veon Bell (running back), Jamison Crowder (receiver) and C.J. Mosley (linebacker) are still Jets, first-round pick Quinnen Williams (defensive lineman) will soon be one now that he's reached a contract agreement with the team, and all are undeniably part of a significant talent upgrade. All the happy talk of earlier years was always clouded by a quick check of a roster that simply wasn't good enough to compete with the better teams in the league. That is no longer the case.

The Jets almost certainly won't topple the Patriots in the AFC East -- nobody should predict New England's demise until Bill Belichick is retired -- but they could at least be alive for a wild-card spot.

"There is enough talent on this roster to be a playoff contender," said Darnold, who is the bedrock of the Jets' hopes.

That is probably true. The reality, though, is the Jets can't get to November and December if they don't survive a difficult stretch before October even ends. Starting in Week 2, they have -- in order -- the Browns, Patriots, Eagles, Cowboys and Patriots again. Those games feature high-powered offenses, which will put immediate pressure on the Jets' suspect cornerbacks and force Gase's offense to quickly perform at peak scoring level to have a chance.

Darnold said there is good energy in the Jets' building as they take the field for the start of training camp. If the late-summer glow the Jets have as they open training camp is to linger, they will have to win at least a few of those early games and avoid again being the Patriots' punching bag.

A lot of the faces around the Jets changed this offseason, and that has certainly created buzz. But we've seen this kind of turnover periodically around here. If these are not to be the same old Jets again, if they are to finally be in the mix instead of simply in the headlines, they will have to do what so many of their predecessors for a decade failed to: exchange the good talk for good play.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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