In body and mind, Ellis ready for big year

This week marks a one-year anniversary that Kenrick Ellis would like to forget. On June 15, 2012, he started a 45-day jail sentence for assault, stemming from a 2010 incident in college. The nose tackle served his time, and now he's looking forward to a season with nothing but football on his mind.

"A year ago at this time, my body was here, but my mind wasn't," Ellis said at the conclusion of last week's minicamp. "You know the situation. I don't want to talk about it. Not having to worry about it, I'm finally starting to be me. I don't have to be all tense and all scared. It's all football and life. I'm happy. Everything is good right now."

Ellis went from minicamp last June directly to a jail cell in Hampton, Va. He was released in time for training camp -- it was a split sentence -- but 23 days behind bars took its toll on his conditioning. It's too bad because, despite the distraction of looming jail time, he was impressive last spring, according to Rex Ryan.

"I was like, 'Wow, this guy may end up winning our starting job,'" Ryan said. "I was really pleased with him. When he came back in the summer, he wasn't quite to that level and then he got injured early in the season. ... [He] never really hit his stride until late in the year, but now is the time for him to step up. I think he understands that the opportunity is right there in front of him and I believe the young man is going to do a tremendous job for us."

Ellis, 25, is expected to replace Sione Po'uha as the starting nose tackle. This is a big leap for Ellis, who played only 233 defensive snaps (22 percent) last season. The former third-round pick didn't contribute much in his first two seasons, admittedly relying too much on his natural talent.

"Being a small-school guy -- a small-school, black-college guy -- I was here off my athleticism," said Ellis, who played at Hampton University.

Ellis (6-foot-4, 345 pounds) believes he has sharpened his mental approach to the game, learning how to read blocking schemes and understand tendencies. He also has honed his technique, especially hand placement. The jail experience also taught him a life lesson.

"Be grateful for your situation, because somebody always has it worse," he said. "If it's dark, there's always day. There's always a way to get out. Keep persevering, keep pushing. This is all I know. This is easy now."