FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
There are ways to say something . . . and then there is the way Brandon Marshall said this particular something in light of this particular development.
The Jets’ star receiver was talking about the quarterback change from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Geno Smith — a move that had to be made by Todd Bowles after a 1-5 start already turned this season into a dumpster fire — and Marshall commended Smith on hanging in for 14 months since literally being knocked out of the lineup by linebacker IK Enemkpali.
“The thing that Geno needed to learn, which he did, is that it’s not anything about football,” Marshall said Wednesday. “It’s about coming to work every single day, being consistent. I think the person who benefited the most from this last year and a half has been Geno.”
And then this: “It’s been amazing to see this guy grow and real ly punch adversity in the face.”
That’s quite a choice of words, considering Smith is now in charge of the Jets’ offense and will attempt to resurrect a career derailed when a former teammate drilled him with a right to the jaw during a locker-room argument in 2015 training camp. A passive-aggressive shot? Or Marshall’s clever way of suggesting that Smith really has gotten past the worst moment of his career?
Marshall did offer plenty of praise and support for Smith, but the punch remains a very sensitive topic for the 26-year-old. It’s especially noteworthy because Marshall had gone to such great lengths to admire the guy Smith replaced. After a loss to the Seahawks, he said, “I am going down in the boat with Ryan Fitzpatrick.”
Marshall poked fun at himself over the line. “Boat down,” he cracked after practice.
But he did offer high marks to Smith for being patient, and for learning from Fitzpatrick about what it means to be a professional.
“The reason we all fell in love with Ryan and the reason we love Ryan so much is that you know what you’re going to get from him every single day on and off the field,” Marshall said. “That’s something that Geno has really benefited from. Geno’s doing a great job, and I think he’s excited. There’s a lot of people excited for him now that he’s in there.”
Marshall roomed with Smith soon after being traded from the Bears in March 2015. He thinks Geno got a raw deal in his first go-round as the Jets’ starter.
“It’s been hard dealing with the media for him here,” he said. “You guys have been really tough on him, and he hasn’t always dealt with that the right way. There’s frustration, but that’s a process. He’ll continue to grow and learn. But with football, what people need to understand, especially with the media, it’s personal. When you read stuff about you, especially negative, when you’re putting your all into something and you’re going out there trying to do the right thing, you’re not trying to mess it up and you get crushed, especially in this market, we take it personally. I think that’s why so many guys love playing with him is because he’s competitive and he’s doing a great job of learning how to control that.”
Now Smith gets to prove he really has learned something in his time away from the field, and the Jets get to move on from a quarterback they hoped would be their solution and their salvation. Instead, Fitzpatrick joins a long line of disappointments since Joe Namath jogged off the field at the Orange Bowl, his index finger pointed skyward, after the Jets won their only Super Bowl nearly a half-century ago.
Fitzpatrick played his way out of the lineup. With just five touchdown passes and 11 interceptions (four in the red zone), Fitzpatrick lost the one-year, $12-million bet he placed on himself by signing a short-term deal on the eve of training camp. His career as a starter is effectively over.
Yet it’s highly unlikely — next to impossible, perhaps — that Smith becomes the answer to the Jets’ quarterback quandary. Even if he plays well, he is in the final year of his contract, and it’s tough to see the Jets going to great lengths to re-sign him. Eventually they want to get a look at second-year quarterback Bryce Petty, who recently recovered from a bruised shoulder, and 2016 second-round pick Christian Hackenberg, who is not ready to play.
Smith has been plagued by turnovers since he became the Week 1 starter as a rookie in 2013, and it’s unreasonable to expect a decisive turnaround in that area. That’s why Bowles’ decision to bench Fitzpatrick may not be a one-step process. If Smith plays exceedingly well, Bowles will keep him in the lineup indefinitely. If not, then Petty will — and should — get a look-see to give the Jets more information about whether he’s a potential answer.
There’s still a chance that the quarterback of the future is not on the roster, and that the team will sign or trade for a veteran in the offseason, or draft another quarterback next season. And if their record this year is poor enough, they may be in line for a blue-chip prospect.
Between now and then, there are 10 games to get some answers. Smith hopes he can provide some, if not for the Jets, then for another team looking for a quarterback. Even if he says that’s not on his mind right now.
“It’s not about me,” Smith said. “It never has been. I’m going to go out there with my teammates and we’re going to work hard to try and get a win. It’s not going to be one player or one person. We’ve just got to collectively come together and see what happens.”
At 1-5, not much figures to happen except the ending Jets fans have been used to for far too long: another lost season, another failed quarterback, and another lost cause for a franchise still looking for the next Namath.
TAKE A TURN
Joe Namath’s last season as Jets quarterback was 1976. Beginning with the 1977 season, 28 quarterbacks have started games for the franchise:
106 Ken O’Brien
88 Richard Todd
62 Mark Sanchez
61 Chad Pennington, Vinny Testaverde
42 Boomer Esiason
29 Geno Smith
22 Ryan Fitzpatrick
20 Neil O’Donnell
19 Pat Ryan
16 Brett Favre
13 Browning Nagle, Matt Robinson
9 Brooks Bollinger, Kellen Clemens, Ray Lucas
8 Glenn Foley
7 Frank Reich
6 Rick Mirer
4 Bubby Brister
3 Michael Vick, Quincy Carter
2 Marty Domres, Tony Eason, David Norrie, Jack Trudeau
1 Kyle Mackey, Greg McElroy