Last year, he graciously yielded his uniform number to a renowned veteran player. He literally also took a step -- make that many steps -- back as his maurading partner at safety drew attention and accolades.
There can be little doubt that Marcus Maye is the consummate team player. And now, in his fourth season in the NFL, Maye has stepped up into the teeth of Gregg Williams' defensive schemes and emerged as the one of the focal points of the Jets' defense.
"There are no egos on the team," Maye said. "No guys out here that's trying to do too much. The vibe is good, everyone knows the task at hand."
For Maye, part of that task crystallized when his running mate, Jamal Adams, was traded to Seattle. Maye's roll, on the field and off, was altered on July 25 when it became clear that his role had changed and he was being looked to as a team leader -- for both the way he handles himself and his quiet, infectious confidence.
"Marcus, toward the end of last year was one of the guys that I noticed that was really kind of stepping to the forefront," said Head Coach Adam Gase. "He was a guy that was vocal, he does everything right, he competes at an extremely high level when we get to games, he competes extremely hard in practice. I've just seen a growth more than a change than anything. You can see he's more and more comfortable every day of hey, when he needs to speak up, he does. He's always one of those guys that, he talks to
me a lot during practice, letting me know that we're not going to do anything on offense."
Gase added: "There's nothing you can say that he doesn't do well."
Before the start of the 2019 season, Maye gave a hint of his selflessness and devotion to team when he gave up jersey No. 26 to running back Le'Veon Bell, settling on No. 20 instead. And last year, as he had done in his first two (injured hampered seasons), Maye normally played about 20 yards off the line of scrimmage as Williams unleashed Adams to wreck havoc. Now, Maye is likely to drop into the box, a role Williams featured Adams in. The move is a clear and obvious nod to the Williams' penchant for mixing and matching his players.
"It's two different worlds," Maye said. "Being back deep, you've got to see things from different angles. You've got to be the last line of defense, so you have to approach different situations differently. Just being in the box you have to worry about the offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, tight ends there's a lot going on down there in regards to the big guys. So like I said, it's two different worlds but I feel like once I get going, I'll be fine.
"You're still going to get the same hustle plays, the same effort to the ball. I'm still the same guy, I'm not going to put anything bigger on it than what it is. I've just got to go out and play ball, but still just the same old me."
With CBs Quincy Wilson and Brian Poole; DE Jabari Zuniga; and RB La'Mical Perine (plus the veteran C Jonotthan Harrison) -- along with Maye -- the Jets now have six former Florida Gators on the current roster. In Gainesville, Harrison was teammates with Poole in 2012 before Maye joined Poole in Florida's secondary in 2013. By 2014, Maye, Poole and Wilson were teammates. Zuniga joined as a redshirt freshman in 2015. Poole went on to the NFL in 2016, but Perine joined the Gators. Maye, Perine, Wilson and Zuniga were all teammates in 2016. After the 2016 season, Maye and Wilson were both drafted in the second round, leaving Perine and Zuniga through the 2019 season.
"It's definitely nice," Maye said. "Since I've been here, getting Brian and now Quincy, I know those guys and I know what they can do. I know the type of player we are getting out there. And getting back on the grass with the guys you've played with before I know the talent they have. It's definitely exciting to be playing with those guys."
Maye may have been the Jets' "other" safety last year, but now he's poised to play a bigger and more important role.
"This young man is a sponge he soaks up everything," Dennard Wilson, the Jets' passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach, said about Maye. "And from the little details, post plays footwork, vision on the quarterback. I see this guy and he goes out and does it. You can see the speed sideline to sideline. I love coaching this young man. As learns more the game slows down and he'll make plays."
Along with Bradley McDougald, acquired from the Seahawks in the Adams trade, as Maye's partner at safety, Williams plans to move Maye around the field. So far in training camp, Maye has made plays in the secondary and behind the line of scrimmage.
"Everybody's hungry, still feeding off momentum we had at the end of last year," Maye said. "Everybody has extra pep in their step. Everybody's excited looking forward to the season seeing what we all can put together.
"I just love being on the grass. You can put me anywhere. ... I can do a range of things."