There's not a whole lot in Mike Pennel's short NFL résumé that suggests he could be on the verge of a career breakout. He was an undrafted free agent by Green Bay in 2014, had five starts in three Packers seasons, was hit with a pair of NFL suspensions in 2016, and was released by the Pack in March.
But the Jets were interested enough to acquire the burly nose tackle on waivers, and there was some buzz among Green & White faithful at his arrival.
Then last week head coach Todd Bowles added his name to the list of offseason admirers.
"Mike's a big man," Bowles said of the 6'4", 332-pounder. "He's had a good spring, a very good spring. And he's into it. If it continues in pads, he'll have a future here."
The personable Pennel hears the compliments from outside and in, and he smiles. But he lets them roll off his broad back.
"To be honest, I kind of shut myself off from outside influences my second year into the league," he said. "My mom reads a lot of the stories and comments, she always sends me stuff, and I tell her, don't send me that. It doesn't matter to me. I just want to stay even keel."
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The good ship Pennel has brought him further east from his Colorado home and his Wisconsin stopover to the Jets, where he's made a smooth transition to the Green & White and into the still formidable talent in the D-line room.
"Everybody's been so welcoming here, giving me everything I need, and I'm just trying to take advantage of all that," he told me after the last practice of minicamp. "I feel like I can be another piece to the defense. We already have great playmakers, and I have a veteran nose tackle I can learn from. Whenever Steve [McLendon] needs a break, I want to be able to come in and have there not be a dropoff."
Some have even likened Pennel to a young player out of the mold of Kris Jenkins, the mammoth O-line wrecker who made four Pro Bowls, including one for the Jets in 2008.
"The crazy thing is I watched a lot of film on Kris when I was younger, and that's who I wanted to be — great first get-off, big guy, just solid in the middle," he said. "So I like that analogy. That's nice."
But let's not get too far out over our skis. Pennel's good start to his Jets career will continue back in the Rockies for the next five weeks before training camp. He used to travel his first few NFL offseasons, but this year he's focused on daily workouts. And for some fun vacation activity, perhaps some hiking.
Such as up and down the famed Manitou Incline near Colorado Springs. You start at 6,600 feet above sea level, then go up at an average 41% incline for 2,000 feet and 2,744 steps, all constructed of railroad ties.
"I do the Incline two to three times a week," he said. "It gets you altitude training and it gets you right. It's really hard on your lungs. Go up, run down — great workout!"
It's all a part of Pennel's plan. The past is prologue, the future is now.
"I feel like you can go one way or another," he said. "You can just rely on your talent and make the team, but I have bigger aspirations than that. I want to outplay anything that I've done before. And I actually want to prove people right who said I have the potential to be a good player."