FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Willie Colon walked out of the New York Jets' facility eight months ago uncertain if he'd ever be back.
He had just completed his second season with the Jets, but changes were coming. There would be a new front office, head coach and assistant coaches, all trying to assemble a roster that would help the franchise rebound from a 4-12 season.
''The business side, you can never control,'' Colon said after the Jets held their final training camp practice Thursday. ''I'm 32 years old and I know my injury record and I know everything that goes along with me. At the end of the day, I know I've got the heart of a dog. I'm willing to fight anytime I get the opportunity.''
Many fans and media assumed the Jets would let the veteran offensive lineman leave as a free agent. He has dealt with knee issues during the last few years, and has a penchant for penalties. Instead, general manager Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles surprisingly brought Colon back on a one-year deal at the veteran's minimum of $870,000.
Now, heading into the Jets' third preseason games, it appears Colon has all but wrapped up the starting job at right guard.
''I just tried to maximize every opportunity I got,'' Colon said. ''It's not my first competition battle. I came into it with a battle-hungry mind. I knew what was at stake. I know what's still at stake. I just want to fit in and get the job done. It takes a lot of work and dedication, and I've put that in. Now when you get on the field, flat-out ball out.''
Colon started training camp on the physically unable to perform list, dealing again with pain in his left knee. He was activated three days later and quickly worked his way to the first-team offense, ahead of challengers such as Brian Winters, Brent Qvale, Oday Aboushi and rookie Jarvis Harrison.
Still, Colon is taking nothing for granted, refusing to declare himself the winner of the right guard competition.
''No, not at all,'' he said. ''I think it's still up in the air, honestly. My mindset is when the bell rings, just be ready to go. That's where my head is at right now.''
Bowles acknowledged he's likely to announce the starter in the days after the team's game against the Giants, but all signs point to Colon being back at the spot he occupied the last two seasons.
''He brings a lot of toughness,'' Bowles said recently. ''So far, he looks good and his knees have been holding up. He's been upbeat. He's one of the most talkative guys in camp. He makes every day festive and he plays like that. He's one of the older guys, but he's got one of the younger spirits. He's been having a good camp.''
Colon has always been regarded as a strong run blocker, and that's a good thing considering the Jets will likely rely on their ground game this season. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound lineman from the Bronx is also always ready to rumble with opponents, endearing him to teammates with a nasty streak and a ''got-your-back'' approach on the field.
But he can also frustrate coaches at times because of penalties. Colon had a team-leading 12 last season, including seven for false starts.
When asked if he really had anything to prove at this point in his career, Colon didn't hesitate.
''Yeah, that I belong on this team,'' he said. ''With those four guys (on the offensive line), and being a part of this Bowles team, I wear it like a badge.''
Colon was a fourth-round draft pick of Pittsburgh out of Hofstra in 2006, and won a Super Bowl with the Steelers to cap the 2008 season. He knows his chances at another title are dwindling. Colon isn't sure how much longer his body will allow him to play the game he loves - and come out on top in position competitions.
''I'm extremely blessed that I'm able to wear a helmet and be on this field,'' Colon said. ''Any time I get the opportunity to show my skills and do what I do, it's a blessing. I just try to seize the moment.''
NOTES: Bowles announced that team captains will be selected on a game-by-game basis. ''I've been around captains that got hurt during the year,'' Bowles said. ''They wear a big `C' on their chest and get hurt during training camp and you don't have any. So, whoever plays well the week before and gets a chance to be in their hometown, you give them a little bone that way.'' ... QB Matt Flynn, signed last week, is unlikely to play against the Giants as he continues to heal from a hamstring injury. ... LB Calvin Pace missed a second day of practice with a sore groin, and his availability for Saturday's game was uncertain.
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