A player such as Steve McLendon is usually the first casualty when a new coaching staff is hired and tries immediately to change the culture and the team’s losing ways.
You see it every year in the NFL: New coaching staffs come in and quickly weed out the older players in an effort to get younger and cheaper by bringing in their own people.
When that theory was presented this week to the Jets’ new head coach, Adam Gase, with regard to McLendon, a 33-year-old war-horse defensive lineman entering his 10th NFL season, he politely interrupted the questioner.
“Oh, no,’’ Gase said. “There was no way we were not bringing [McLendon] back.’’
“His reputation around the league is outstanding,’’ Gase said. “Everybody knows he is a worker who’s smart and tough. He’s a culture guy, but he’s a really good player. He does everything right and guys listen to him. When he speaks, people listen. He’s about us getting better as a team, and sometimes you need that. The guy has been part of winning teams the majority of his career. He knows what it looks like, he knows how to do it.
“And,’’ Gase went on, “he doesn’t look his age to me [with] the way he practices, the way he plays the game. He wanted to strangle me for holding him out the first [preseason] game, even though we thought that was the right thing to do.’’
After being held out in the preseason opener against the Giants, McLendon played a little bit in last week’s game at Atlanta and he figures to play for about a half in Saturday night’s home game against the Saints.
Though McLendon has endured three consecutive losing seasons with the Jets (a cumulative record of 14-34) after going to the playoffs in four of his six seasons in Pittsburgh (a 61-35 overall record), he has not lost his desire to play.
“I always have the desire, because I absolutely love this game,’’ McLendon said. “I was honored when the Jets called me back, because to be honest, I didn’t really know. Coach [Todd] Bowles and the coaching staff was let go and that’s the staff that brought me in. I never thought that this staff was going to bring me back in. So, it was a great honor that they decided to bring me back in. I’m so blessed and thankful for it.’’
When you listen to Gase and to McLendon’s teammates, it sounds as if they’re the ones who feel blessed to be in McLendon’s presence.
“He’s sort of like that older brother that you look up to,’’ linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “He does everything the right way and he doesn’t take shortcuts. He’s the type of guy who, when you’re around him, you want to work harder because you know how hard he’s working.’’
What is McLendon’s skill-set at age 33?
“You put Steve against O-linemen in this league, and I guarantee he’s going to knock him back as well as anyone in this league can,’’ Jenkins said. “People don’t realize how strong he is. He can squat and bench press the whole rack [of weights]. He’s physically strong, physically fit. He’s probably one of the most fit big guys I’ve ever seen.’’
Fellow linebacker Brandon Copeland raved about the mentorship role McLendon embraces with the younger players on defense, particularly first-round draft pick Quinnen Williams.
“In a similar fashion that [former veteran backup quarterback] Josh McCown was a veteran presence for Sam Darnold last year, Steve is like that for the young players on our defense,’’ Copeland said. “He’s a calming presence, a guy that doesn’t hesitate to take people under his wing, and it’s all positive stuff.’’
Indeed, you will not find a more positive presence on the Jets than McLendon, who takes pride in that mentality.
“Negativity only brings negative energy,’’ McLendon said. “If you can’t be positive in every situation, even the bad situations, how are you going to be a positive role model to others if you’re negative in your own life?’’
McLendon is the opposite of the stereotypical veteran who’s set in his ways. He’s humble and constantly willing to learn something new, which is exactly why Gase insisted on bringing him back.
“I always want to look from my point of view and from others’ points of view to help myself continue to grow,’’ McLendon said. “Because I never want to get like that flower or that tree that stops growing because it’s not getting the right sunlight or water.’’
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