New coach. New general manager. But is it a new day in Florham Park?
After four straight non-winning seasons, a revamped roster and retooled front office have injected new life into the Jets' facility. But it remains to be seen if the team's confidence is justified.
First-time general manager Mike Maccagnan spent $127 million in the first three days of free agency to rebuild his weak secondary and used a late-round draft pick to acquire playmaker Brandon Marshall. But the team still is heading into Sunday's opener against the Browns with a backup quarterback holding the reins of its offense -- all because former Jet Ikemefuna Enemkpali couldn't control his temper.
The broken jaw Geno Smith suffered at the hands of Enemkpali sent the Jets scrambling for a solution to their quarterback conundrum. But the players insist "The Punch" has actually brought the team closer. And now they're circling the wagons around Ryan Fitzpatrick, defending the much-traveled quarterback against the dreaded game-manager label.
"We're starting a No. 2 quarterback who's been a No. 1 for a lot of teams," right guard Willie Colon said. "How he operates and the energy that he gives off makes us feel like we can go out and do our job. Fitz is great, man."
Even Marshall, Smith's offseason roommate, had high praise for the Harvard-educated Fitzpatrick. "Everyone has something special about them. You just have to find it," he told Newsday. "He really is talented with his arm and running outside the pocket. But the thing that makes him special is his wit and his football IQ. It's off the charts."
Second-year safety Calvin Pryor shared similar sentiments, adding that the Jets' former No. 2 quarterback is fully capable of remaining their starter for the season. "If Fitzpatrick can get it rolling, I'm pretty sure Coach is going to keep him," he said.
The events of the past month -- including Sheldon Richardson's four-game suspension and subsequent arrest in Missouri -- could have caused Todd Bowles' locker room to unravel. Instead, it's had the opposite effect. That's because the first-year coach remains unflappable in the face of a crisis.
During his stint as the Arizona Cardinals' defensive coordinator in 2013-14, Bowles and head coach Bruce Arians weathered the loss of several key defensive starters during the offseason, only to lose their No. 1 and 2 quarterbacks en route to making the playoffs.
Asked about the Jets' quarterback carousel, Antonio Cromartie just laughed. "Coming from Arizona?" asked the cornerback, who spent the 2014 season with the Cardinals. "I'm being dead serious, though. B.A.'s biggest thing was always 'the next man up.' And it's the same thing here. It has to be. It don't matter what goes on."
Despite all of the off-field drama, these players believe in one another and their playoff potential. But even though they have "big-picture thoughts," Marshall said, he and his teammates are heeding Bowles' advice to focus on the here and now.
The 2015 Jets not only say they're hungry, they maintain that they're far more prepared to be successful than last year's roster put together by former coach Rex Ryan and former general manager John Idzik.
What's different? "Everything,'' Pryor told Newsday. "From the coaching staff to the players we brought in. We brought a lot more experience in, as well as two of the best corners in the league [Darrelle Revis and Cromartie]. I think the weaknesses that we had last year, we filled those spots."
"Just the team chemistry and everybody not being on the same page," said the Jets' first-round draft pick in 2014. "And we lacked experience. We had a very young team last year. So we filled those spots and we've got more of a playoff-caliber team now."
Colon agreed that having more of a veteran presence in the locker room bodes well for the Jets' success. But he said the true motivator is last year's record.
"Once you go 4-12, you never want to go back again," said the Bronx-born Hofstra product. "That was a wake-up call. If we don't practice a lot better, if we don't go about our business a lot better, we're going to end up back there.''