If it really is Geno Smith’s job, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s task is to take it away.
New York Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey made some headlines a couple of weeks back by declaring Smith would be his starting quarterback in 2015, a bit of surprise considering the young signal caller’s struggles through his first two seasons, and the presence of Fitzpatrick, a 32-year-old veteran who has a history with Gailey.
Gailey’s boss, first-year head coach Todd Bowles, explained the thought process on Wednesday at the Jets’ OTAs.
“You don’t go into camp having two first-team guys,” the coach claimed. “Geno is the first-team quarterback. It’s Ryan’s job to take it. It’s Geno’s job to lose. If he doesn’t lose it and Ryan doesn’t take it, he’s the starter. It’s no different than Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall, Chris Ivory, D’Brickashaw (Ferguson), anybody else.”
Except the Smith-Fitzpatrick debate is a bit different because Smith plays the most important position on the field and doesn’t exactly have the resume of players like Mangold, Marshall or Ferguson, who have combined for 14 Pro Bowl appearances.
Heck, Smith doesn’t even have the CV of a slightly, above-average runner like Ivory or a journeyman signal caller like Fitzpatrick, who now has a decade of NFL experience under his belt as he prepares to suit up for his sixth different team.
“A lot of my career has been not necessarily being the guy right away and having to step in and not having there be any sort of drop off whether it’s for injury or whatever,” Fitzpatrick said, “That’s something that I pride myself on, whether I’m the day-one starter or a third-string guy, when I go in there, I’m going to make myself ready.”
And that’s something Gailey understands.
There is a comfort level between the Jets’ offensive chief and Fitzpatrick, stemming from their time together in Buffalo from 2010-12, one that enables Gailey to try to resuscitate the career of a talented prospect who has been beaten down, while understanding he doesn’t have to coddle Fitzpatrick or risk losing the veteran mentally.
And at the end of the day, this is about the ceiling versus the floor for the Jets.
Smith’s upside as a player is far greater than Fitzpatrick’s if everything clicks, but when the wheels come off, the more experienced player’s steady hand is the better option, especially in Gailey’s offense.
“I feel good. It’s great to be back in this offense,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s something that I’m very familiar with, and just taking the things I’ve learned the last few years out of this offense and trying to apply them.”
Both Bowles and Gailey believe Fitzpatrick is a player who understands his role and will be ready if needed. Meanwhile, his Harvard education, enables him to avoid some pretty tricky political minefields in the league’s toughest media market.
“We’re all in here trying to win,” Fitzpatrick said when asked about the starting QB job. “(Bowles is) going to put the best guys out there.”
For now, Gailey has been true to his word during OTAs. Smith has been handling the first-team repetitions and Fitzpatrick, who is still recovering from a broken left leg suffered last season while he was with the Houston Texans, has been toiling with the second team in a limited fashion.
The “non-quarterback competition” should heat up a bit in mini-camp next week when Fitzpatrick plans to be a full go.
“His arm’s a little stronger. He’s getting healthier, obviously,” Bowles said. “He’s still knocking the rust off a little bit. You know, you have to get in a little more football shape there. But as far as understanding what to do and where to go, he’s a pretty sharp guy.”
Sharp enough to keep Geno on his toes, exactly what New York is looking for.
“You have to beat out a good player to become a good player,” Bowles stated.
In other words, may the best man win.
“With coach Bowles, the thing that he’s made clear to everybody in this locker room is you’re going to have to earn your spot,” Fitzpatrick said.