FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Kenrick Ellis gathered a few things from his locker, joked around with a New York Jets teammate and smiled.
The second-year defensive tackle was relaxed and happy throughout the team's three-day minicamp, giving no indication that he would be headed to a much different place than everyone else planning their vacations after the final practice Thursday.
Ellis is expected to report Friday to a Virginia prison, where he will begin serving a 45-day jail sentence after pleading guilty last month to assault and battery stemming from a 2010 fight while attending college at Hampton University.
"It's a legal issue," Ellis said this week, "and it's over with."
Or, at least, it will be soon.
Ellis is thrilled with everything he has accomplished this offseason on the field, impressing his coaches with marked improvement and a resculpted body. All of that will be put on hold for now as he is expected to miss a few days of training camp next month while finishing his sentence.
"He's a strong man," Ryan said. "And I know one thing: He's looking forward to this season. He put so much into this offseason."
In a brief hearing last month in Hampton, Va., Ellis entered an Alford plea, meaning he didn't admit guilt but acknowledged prosecutors could prove the case against him. He was sentenced to 179 days in jail, with 89 suspended, but his attorney, Timothy Clancy, said Ellis likely would serve 45 days. Ellis originally faced a felony malicious wounding charge from the fight and faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
"I definitely talked to him," Ryan said. "There are people that have gone through similar things, and I basically said, 'Lean on each other.' That's pretty much it."
Fellow Jets defensive lineman and former Hampton teammate Marcus Dixon has been one of those guys for Ellis. He served 15 months in prison after being convicted in 2003 by a Georgia court of statutory rape and aggravated child molestation. It was a highly publicized case that had many saying Dixon was the victim of a severe injustice.
"He's a grown man and he's going to persevere," Dixon said. "This is a little stepping stone. Whatever happens, he'll do it and come back even better."
After a lost rookie season, Ellis is determined to do just that. Ellis, who preferred to not talk about his legal situation, has been one of the small handful of players Ryan has repeatedly praised this offseason.
"It's nice to hear, definitely," Ellis said before quickly crediting new defensive line coach Karl Dunbar and veteran linemen such as Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito. "They're the ones who really helped me mature within the scheme of the system. I just want to do everything I can to help the team win."
As a third-round pick in the draft last year, Ellis was expected to play a large role in the defense as a rookie. Instead, he played in just five games and made seven tackles.
"As a rookie coming in, you don't know that you don't know," Ellis said. "When you find out that you didn't know, you've got to come in and do what you can from there forth. I was just as raw as they come. I was just green. It was a big transition."