When Ryan Fitzpatrick finally returned to the Jets after missing the entire offseason in a contract dispute, one of the first things he noticed was the vast improvement that wide receiver Quincy Enunwa had made since last season.
Enunwa had shown flashes last year. The 6-2, 225-pound receiver made several tough catches over the middle and showed plenty of speed. But he was raw and subject to drops.
Not this year.
“It’s been very evident to me, from the beginning of training camp, that he is going to be a big part of what we do, and he’s really improved as a receiver,” Fitzpatrick said after a 17-13 win over the Jaguars on Thursday night at MetLife Stadium in the Jets’ preseason opener. “He’s so versatile, and he showed that last year with everything we asked him to do. But he can really develop into a big-time weapon for us.”
Enunwa flashed some of that playmaking ability against the Jaguars, making two straight catches on the identical deep crossing route on the Jets’ first touchdown drive. Fitzpatrick found Enunwa on a 26-yard reception to the Jaguars’ 47 and then hit him on the same route for a 43-yard play to set up Bilal Powell’s 4-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.
“This was the coverage that they were playing, and he was able to slip behind the defenders,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s the kind of stuff we expect out of him now.”
If Enunwa does transform his game from raw potential to reliable receiver, the Jets will have a viable third option behind Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, the Jets’ two primary receivers.
Enunwa, a holdover from the John Idzik regime as a sixth-round pick in 2014, showed coach Todd Bowles enough to make the team last season. Enunwa missed four games last season after being suspended on Oct. 19 for a domestic-violence incident stemming from an arrest in August 2014 that involved his then-girlfriend. Enunwa was charged with “domestic violence simple assault” after an alleged altercation with his girlfriend in a Florham Park hotel room.
“I’m hoping to focus now on football,” Enunwa said after being reinstated. “I want to kind of stay on the straight and narrow the rest of my career.”
He declined to address specific details of the incident.
Bowles has seen Enunwa’s marked improvement on the field since the early part of the offseason, even comparing him to NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, who was known for his toughness and willingness to do the underappreciated jobs in his sport.
“Any time you hear your head coach make comments like that, it helps you on the field,” Enunwa said. “I’m a guy that likes to go out there, scrap, make plays for the team, do the dirty work. I’m not always going to be able to make those plays, but I’m going to do my best.”
Enunwa said the time off during last year’s suspension helped him “reflect and relax. I was able to see what I was doing wrong. Don’t rush it. I was a little shaky here and there. I’m just trying to build off what I did last year.”
Enunwa said Fitzpatrick had spoken to him earlier in the week about taking advantage of a specific formation the Jaguars might use, and that’s exactly what happened on the two catches.
“Fitz made a comment that when I understand what’s going on, I can make some big plays,” Enunwa said. “Luckily, we were on the same page. That was huge because we didn’t game-plan for them too much. [The Jaguars] did exactly what we thought they were going to do and they ran the same route back-to-back.”
If that was a sign of things to come, then the Jets’ receiving game will be about more than just Marshall and Decker. Fitzpatrick relishes the possibilities but also is mindful of the challenge.
“We’ve got a lot of playmakers,” he said. “It’s a great job and a tough job, being able to spread it out. But when teams start game-planning, they pay a lot of attention to Brandon and Decker, so we always have to have other guys step up.”
The other guy is Enunwa.