FLORHAM PARK -- Bilal Powell never paid attention to the talk in 2011 when he was a fourth-round draft pick out of Louisville without big expectations. He’s not paying attention now when the expectations have taken off.
“I try not to get too caught up in the hype," Powell said. “I don’t listen to what everybody else say. I just go out and do my job when it’s time for me to do it.
“I mean to the guys that are unknown or whatever it is, you know, just be ready to go. Whenever your number’s called, just take full advantage of the opportunity."
The rare opportunity comes Sunday when the New York Jets (1-2) play host to the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1) at MetLife Stadium. Running back Matt Forte (turf toe) was ruled out Friday, leaving the Jets with a running back by committee featuring Powell as the starter for just the 23rd time in 81 games and impressive rookie Elijah McGuire.
Jets offensive coordinator John Morton believes either can be a workhorse back.
“He can be an every-down back,’’ Morton said of Powell. “So can Eli, he can be an every down back. But that’s not the way we do things here.
“I like keeping guys fresh. Playing a lot of different guys in different roles. Try to keep the defense on their toes. I think when you do that and you have a back that is really fresh, you can play more at a high level during the game.’’
Powell has performed at a high level, especially for a back not taken on the first day of the draft. He has rushed for 2,403 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. His 5.51 yards per carry in 2016 is a Jets single season record. Powell also has averaged 7.5 yards on 175 receptions.
He’ll have to lift his game against a Jacksonville defense that is emerging as one of the best young units in the league. Known more for his pass catching, Powell has averaged just 2.6 yards per carry this season. He has had only 33 touches, catching five passes for 17 yards.
Just as he never has gotten caught up in expectations, he’s not one to focus on stats. When his No. 29 is called, it’s go time.
“Ever since I was younger I’ve always been competitive,’’ Powell said. “That’s one of my things, compete whenever. And be ready to compete and always stay ready.’’
Powell has seen this approach in McGuire. Coming out of Louisiana Lafayette as a sixth-round pick, McGuire was a long shot to make the roster. Powell said he’s most impressed with McGuire’s pass protection, a part of the game many college backs are never asked to do.
“He’s got a great approach to the game like he’s a three or four-year vet," Morton said. “I think it’s his preparation, everyone helping, the coaches and it’s him wanting to do it. You know what I mean. It’s hard for a rookie to come in and play right away in this league."
Just ask Powell.