Gridiron Dave: Jets Prepare For Life Without Fitz

With the Jets getting ready to improve on a 10-win season, a lot of attention in camp has been paid to who isn’t around.

Brandon Marshall, Nick Mangold and Eric Decker aren’t around for the voluntary OTA’s which isn’t such a big deal. Just a case of some veterans who will be in camp when they need to be.

Then there’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, who still remains unsigned by the Jets as well as the other 31 teams in the NFL. If head coach Todd Bowles wants Fitzpatrick to return, he’s keeping it in-house. “You’re hopeful, I don’t know about confident,” Bowles said. “A lot of things can happen in football. Nothing surprises you but they’re working on it and hopefully things work out.”

Don’t blame the second-year head coach if he seems unfazed. Last year he was prepared to have Geno Smith as his number quarterback. Then Ikemefuna Enemkpali broke Smith’s jaw, Fitzpatrick became the starter and responded by throwing 31 touchdowns. Fitzpatrick had also been hurt, which reminds Bowles of this situation.

“You got to remember he hurt last year when he came and he started the season,” Bowles said. “So if you look at that, we’re in the same boat we were in last year. Fitz was hurt, Geno was the starting quarterback going in, and that’s how you approach this year. If he comes back and gets hurt the first day, you got to get guys ready to play. So whether it’s him or anybody else, you still got to prepare your guys to play football and that’s what we’re doing.”

It might be tough to believe, but the last time Smith started for the Jets he finished the game with a perfect passer rating. It was the end of the Rex Ryan Era and the 2014 season, even if it feels much longer ago. The Jets beat the Dolphins 37-24 as Smith went 20-25 for 358 yards and three touchdowns. That was the same Geno Smith who, two months earlier, went 2-8 with three interceptions in the first quarter against Buffalo.

Maybe his performance against the Dolphins had to do with good weather, or playing a team that was eliminated from playoff contention or maybe was a sign of things to come. Nobody will ever know if his performance in Miami could have given him some momentum heading into 2015 even if he wouldn’t have put up the numbers Fitzpatrick did. Adding Brandon Marshall to the roster didn’t hurt either.

Smith did lead a pair of game-winning drives in 2013, including one in his first NFL game. The Jets finished that season with an 8-8 record when they were predicted to win three or four, even if Smith’s stats weren’t outstanding. Then came a sophomore slump and the Jets fell to 4-12 and Rex Ryan was sent packing.

The defensive-minded Bowles was not flustered by the prospect of starting Smith in his first season and he’s not flustered now.

“Well, Geno’s fine, he does what he always does,” Bowles said. “As a quarterback and as a player, and any other position, you do your job and you play your position. If somebody’s not here, that’s no different than somebody getting injured. You’ve got to get the next person ready to play. We can only coach the guys that are here and the guys that are here can only get ready to play if they see fit.”

The head coach has some advice for his potential number one QB. Don’t think of the competition gaining on you when you can work on improving yourself.

“(It’s) no different than a draft pick,” Bowles said. “They’re going to draft somebody at your position every year. If you’re worried about what’s behind you, you’re not going to see what’s in front of you.”

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