With Geno Smith out, Jets try to move on from ugly punch
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — It took just one destructive punch to rattle an entire franchise.
Geno Smith’s jaw is broken, Ikemefuna Enemkpali is out of a job and the New York Jets are trying to quickly move forward from one of the most stunning — and embarrassing — moments in team history.
Coach Todd Bowles delivered the jolting news Tuesday before practice that Smith would be sidelined at least 6-10 weeks with a broken jaw after being punched by Enemkpali in the locker room before the team’s morning walkthrough.
“It was something very childish,” Bowles said, “and he got cold-cocked, sucker-punched — whatever you want to call it — in the jaw.”
Smith, entering his third season, will require surgery to repair the injuries and will be sidelined for the rest of the summer and likely for the first few games of the season. The regular-season opener at home against Cleveland on Sept. 13 is five weeks away.
Enemkpali, an outside linebacker in his second season, was immediately released by the Jets.
“The team knows this is something we don’t tolerate, something we can’t stand,” Bowles said. “You don’t walk up to another man and punch him in the face.”
Neither Bowles nor a small handful of players made available to the media would go into detail about what happened, or if they knew what sparked it.
“I think at the end of the day, details aren’t really necessary,” guard Willie Colon said. “I think today, as an organization, as a team, we may have taken a step back.”
But now, the Jets are trying to move forward without Smith, who was having a good camp, and turn to veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick as they prepare for their preseason opener at Detroit on Thursday.
Here are some things to know about what’s next for the Jets:
The acquisition of Fitzpatrick from Houston in March by general manager Mike Maccagnan looks even more shrewd now, and not only because he’s an experienced backup with 89 NFL starts under his belt.
Fitzpatrick has played in offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s system, putting up solid numbers under him in Buffalo from 2010-12. The Jets will need to find another veteran backup as insurance for Fitzpatrick with rookies Bryce Petty and Jake Heaps the only remaining quarterbacks on the roster. But, because of his familiarity with the offense, Fitzpatrick is the perfect option considering the circumstances.
“Yes, there’s no question about it,” Gailey said when asked if he could rely on Fitzpatrick. “That’s from prior knowledge as well as present day. There’s no question.”
Smith took just about every snap with the first-team offense throughout training camp, so Fitzpatrick needs to get work in with the players he’ll now be throwing and handing off to.
That means extra work in particular with receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, who were developing a solid rapport this summer with Smith.
“There’s going to be some stuff we have to get down — body language, all that, expectations — and that’s going to take a little bit of time,” Fitzpatrick said. “But I feel like we have good communicators, the receiving corps are very good communicators. I think that’s one of my strengths as well, so we’ll get on the same page.”
UP FOR GRABS
Bowles wouldn’t commit to Fitzpatrick as the starter for the rest of the season or to Smith reclaiming his job when he’s healthy, but indicated that a player could lose his starting spot due to injury.
“If the other guy is playing well and the boat is going right and there are no waves and everything is going and we’re 4, 5, 6, 7-and-0,” Bowles said, “yeah, you’re not coming back to start.”
PUTTING HIS FOOT DOWN
Bowles was stern yet even-keeled while twice addressing the Smith-Enemkpali altercation, although questions arose about whether the first-year coach needed to assert himself more.
He answered all that by immediately cutting Enemkpali after gathering the facts, sending a clear message to the team — and skeptics outside the facility — that he will not accept this type of behavior.
“I told the team that,” Bowles said. “I addressed them. I don’t care who you are. As far as them in the locker room, the veterans have to take care of themselves and they have to police the locker room as well, but when somebody just walks up to you and just takes a shot, you know that can’t be warranted anywhere.”
Bowles also dealt with the news last month that star defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and then was charged with resisting arrest after a high-speed road race in Missouri 12 days later. Richardson could face additional discipline by the league for violation of the personal conduct policy once the legal process plays out.
Despite three highly publicized situations this summer, Bowles and the Jets players insisted that there is no deep-rooted issue in the locker room.
“Honest to God,” center Nick Mangold said, “this is an isolated incident.”
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