Todd Bowles insisted Jeremy Kerley isn't in his doghouse. But it's evident the veteran slot receiver hasn't won over the Jets' new head coach.
"You have to earn your spot on this team," Bowles said in a recent one-on-one with Newsday. "I'm not giving nobody anything -- I don't care who it is. He's one of those people that's in a dogfight to earn his spot."
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The curious case of Kerley -- the resident starter who has been overshadowed by little-known guys such as Quincy Enunwa, Chris Owusu and Shaq Evans -- has been as noticeable a narrative as any other in Florham Park these days. Kerley, a 2011 fifth-round pick, signed a four-year, $16-million deal last season, but his resume seems to have had little effect on Bowles.
There were rumblings that Kerley's slip down the depth chart had something to do with his absence during voluntary practices and his Achilles injury during the offseason.
But while the Jets' coach downplayed the importance of Kerley's offseason absences, he stressed the importance of putting in work at all times.
"You just know that when everybody's here, you better stand out if you're a starter," Bowles said. "If you're a starter and you miss voluntary workouts, when you come back, you've gotta be rolling. And if not, you won't be starting for too long."
Kerley was inactive for Saturday night's Snoopy Bowl because of a concussion he suffered last week against Atlanta.
Bowles said he knows Kerley is "a very good route runner" who has "very good hands." But his injuries have opened the door.
"So, right now, it's almost survival of the fittest," he said of naming a third receiver. "And I'll probably go down to the last weekend [before making a decision]."
The 6-2, 225-pound Enunwa has impressed Bowles with his size and his ability to catch the football. But despite Enunwa's limited experience (he played in only one game in 2014), Bowles said there isn't "a big difference" between the guys competing for the third receiver job, Kerley included. "He's not given anything," Bowles said before insisting that "nobody's in my doghouse."When reminded that veterans such as Darrelle Revis and Nick Mangold aren't competing for their starting jobs, Bowles just smiled.
"No, but they work hard every day and they keep their spot and nobody's taking it," he said. "Competition has been big at that receiver spot. Revis has done everything to keep his spot, Nick has done everything to keep his spot. Nobody's taken their spot. And they're not taking days off.
"The biggest thing coming into the league is, if you do your job and everything you're supposed to do, nobody can take your spot. If you get hurt and people start playing well and you're looking at them more, then you're in a competition."
So if Revis starts falling off?
"If he starts falling off, he already knows the answer to that," Bowles said, laughing. "He'll admit it himself. He doesn't need me to tell him."