As divergent as their paths to the NFL were, as dissimilar as they may appear on the surface, Buster Skrine believes he and Ryan Fitzpatrick are cut from the same cloth.
“I feel like we come from the same breed,” the Jets cornerback told Newsday.
At their core, they’re gritty, scrappy players who set out long ago to shatter everyone else’s expectations. Even now, they still share that underdog mentality.
“Fitz is a small-school player, came from Harvard,” said Skrine, who played at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “I just feel like he’s one of those diamonds in the rough.
“He always has to prove himself every year. So that’s why people critique his arm strength. But Fitz has a better arm than a lot of quarterbacks in the league. And better touch. So I give him respect.”
For all of Fitzpatrick’s success last season, critics continue to dissect and dog his ability. But Skrine and Darrelle Revis came to their quarterback’s defense, even after a subpar practice by Fitzpatrick.
“I think it maybe looks unorthodox a little bit and people view it as he might not have a strong arm,” Revis said. “But he can make every throw in the NFL. From hash to hash.”
Skrine, who returned a Fitzpatrick pass for a touchdown in practice Sunday, agreed.
“He can make any throw. It might not get there as fast,” he said, flashing a playful grin. “But he knows when to release it. He has great timing and he knows his receivers. That’s why our offense clicks the way it does.”
Never one to take himself too seriously, Fitzpatrick rarely misses an opportunity to deliver a self-deprecating jab. That’s just what he did Saturday after turning heads with a 55-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker.
“Chunk plays are awesome, those explosive plays,” he said. “I think we’re just going to continue to get better at that. But we had a good one today. I think it surprised (Decker) because such a noodle-arm quarterback threw it that far.”
Despite Fitzpatrick’s franchise-record 31 touchdown passes and career-high 3,905 passing yards last season, the Jets rarely relied on the long ball. But could coordinator Chan Gailey allow Fitz to air it out more to Decker and Brandon Marshall in 2016?
“I put my trust in him and Chan,” Revis said, smiling. “And all the receivers to come down with the ball as well. They had a great year last year, and I think it will be better this year just because of their chemistry and the bond is better.”
After Skrine jumped the route on a back-shoulder sideline throw to Kenbrell Thompkins, Fitzpatrick was picked off by safety Calvin Pryor. But practice miscues are inevitable for every player, and in games that matter, his teammates have faith in their quarterback — and his arm.
“Fitz is a football player,” Skrine said. “You have people that have the pretty arm, guys that can run fast — and then you have football players. Fitz may not have the strongest arm, but he finds a way to make plays.”