FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Tommy Bohanon had been waiting to feel the smashing pop of his shoulder pads for too long.
A broken collarbone ended the New York Jets fullback's season after just four games last year, so the first padded practice of training camp this summer was a loud, bone-rattling welcome back.
''I was anxious to get back out there and put the pads back on,'' Bohanon said after a recent practice. ''It was definitely a great feeling to be out there on the field and get a few good licks in.''
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That's what the bruising Bohanon is all about: hard hits, standing up defenders and paving lanes for running backs. He's back in business with his shoulder healed and his presence being felt again in practices.
''I've come into this season stronger and faster than ever,'' the 6-foot-1, 247-pound Bohanon said. ''I feel that I've progressed this year and I think this could be a very big year for me and the team itself.''
Bohanon is the only true fullback on the Jets' roster after J.C. Copeland was waived early in the week, although undrafted free-agent linebacker Julian Howsare is getting time at the position.
The question is whether new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey plans to include a fullback with the Jets, or perhaps use a blocking tight end such as Kellen Davis in an H-back type of role.
When Gailey was the head coach at Buffalo from 2010-12, he ran an offense with some spread tendencies - something he's also expected to do with the Jets - and a fullback might not be necessary. Corey McIntyre saw significant snaps with the Bills under Gailey, but had only four carries in those three seasons.
''There's still a place, but everybody's got to have worth on the team,'' Gailey said in May. ''You've got to have a role and be able to do it well. We won't keep somebody just to keep somebody just to say we've got a fullback.''
Bohanon has been used this summer as a lead blocker, carried the ball and even been split out to run routes. He also plays special teams.
''I think there's definitely a role in this offense for a fullback,'' Bohanon said. ''I've been able to do a lot of different things with my abilities. I think my versatility helps to be able to put the fullback back on the roster.''
Bohanon was a seventh-round pick out of Wake Forest in 2013 and has been used mostly as a blocker, rushing for 65 yards on 18 carries with 13 catches for 99 yards. He was hoping to establish himself as an even more valuable part of the offense last year when he injured his shoulder against Detroit on Sept. 28.
Bohanon played with it for the entire second half of the game - something that took then-coach Rex Ryan and the rest of the Jets by surprise.
''That ought to tell you about the kind of toughness that he has,'' Ryan said at the time.
It was a clean break to Bohanon's collarbone without any ligament damage and didn't require surgery, but he was placed on the season-ending injured reserve list. Less than two months later, he was back in the weight room.
But there were several helpless moments for Bohanon, who could only watch as the Jets struggled to a 4-12 season that cost both Ryan and general manager John Idzik their jobs.
''It was probably the longest season of my life,'' Bohanon said, ''just sitting there and watching everybody play.''
The offseason brought about several changes throughout the organization as owner Woody Johnson hired Mike Maccagnan as his general manager and Todd Bowles as coach. That meant new assistant coaches, different football philosophies and inevitable roster changes.
The Jets decided not to re-sign John Conner, who had replaced Bohanon at fullback.
But, Bohanon had a strong connection with Idzik, whose son Brad played with him at Wake Forest. Some fans and media assumed that with Idzik gone, Bohanon would eventually follow.
Well, not if Bohanon - and his popping pads - have any say.
''I mean, this is a business, no matter which way you look at it and being an `Idzik guy' or whatever you want to say, you need to come out here and be a football player,'' Bohanon said. ''It doesn't matter who brought you in or who got you here. It matters what you do on the field each and every day.
''I think I've been playing well all camp, and I think that speaks for itself.''
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