FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — His coaches here have changed and so have his co-workers, and even his old jersey number now belongs to someone else. At 28, Jeremy Kerley is far removed from the kid who first walked the halls of One Jets Drive. And yet, for all the changes that could make this locker room seem more foreign than familiar, Kerley Wednesday said he was finally back home.
“I didn’t want to be anywhere else” after he was cut by the 49ers Saturday, he said. “This was the place I felt more comfortable with . . . I knew this team wants to win and I know they want to prove a lot of people wrong right now, and that’s something I want to be a part of.”
Because the Jets are rebuilding, they appear to be a less-than-desirable landing spot, but as guys like Josh McCown — a Week 1 quarterback at age 38 — and now Kerley indicate, it actually can be a prime opportunity for someone running low on options.
Now Kerley, who was drafted by the Jets in 2011 but eventually was phased out under Chan Gailey’s offense, returns to a team with a shallow wide receiver pool and a West Coast offense that plays to his skill set as a slot receiver.
“Chan had his things that he wanted to go with,” Kerley said. “So [now] is a better opportunity, I guess, because a different person is here. I’m just eager to get started and do what I do.”
Coach Todd Bowles said he’d continue to use Kerley in the slot and did not rule out using him on punt returns.
With only three days of practice between his joining the team and their first game in Buffalo, however, Kerley will need to fast track his education, or at least master the Cliff’s Notes.
Bowles, who coached Kerley in his final year, said he always liked the 5-9 Kerley, but “schematically, we were an outside passing team and we had two guys outside that were getting the ball a lot.”
Bowles said the Jets did “more play-action and we needed bigger receivers, so therefore, not that he couldn’t play, he just didn’t fit into the scheme we were running,” he said. “Now that we have the scheme we’re running, we have a little different game plan on how to use a slot receiver . . . I still like him. I’ve always liked him.”
Kerley, who had 64 catches last season for 152 yards and two touchdowns, joins Robby Anderson, who wears his old No. 11, and Jermaine Kearse as McCown’s top three options.
And as much as anyone, Kerley thoroughly desired to return to the Jets — a team some experts are projecting to go 0-16. As soon as he was cut by the 49ers Saturday, “I was on my phone, looking for every Jet contact I had,” he said. “I was trying to hit up everybody.”
He’s still close to Bilal Powell, and despite not talking to Bowles during his time with the Lions and 49ers, he rang him up, too. “I was on the phone myself trying to hit up Todd,” he said, “and trying to let him know I’m trying to come back over here.”
Sure, it’s not exactly like it was when he started here. His locker still doesn’t have a name on it and he’s wearing No. 14 — a number he hates because “it’s goofy.” A lot of the people he played with are long gone and with all the youth around him, he’s an honest-to-goodness elder statesman.
But that doesn’t matter much. After all, it was shortly before practice when he tweeted a picture of him in his old jersey, scoring a touchdown.
“New York,” he wrote, “right back like I never left . . . ”