The vast majority of fans that follow the New York Jets have undoubtedly already heard the bad news. Projected starting quarterback Geno Smith was injured (broken jaw) in a training camp fight with linebacker IK Enemkpali. He is expected to miss 6-10 weeks, ensuring that he will not be suiting up opening day against the Cleveland Browns on September 13th. More details on the story can be found here.
With an off season that already has been tarnished by Sheldon Richardson’s misconduct, the past few weeks have been nightmarish for Jets fans. Sports media is once again abuzz with headlines about the dysfunction, chaos and incompetence of the Jets.
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In the midst of all the noise, Jets fans should take a cue from Aaron Rodgers and relax. The season is not over. In fact, the season has not even begun yet. And many of the loudest doomsday arguments being spouted are premature and overblown.
Let’s examine a couple of these arguments in detail.
Argument #1 – The Jets losing their starting quarterback will cripple their offense.
Obviously, no team wants to lose starting players, especially before the season has even begun. That being said, it is reasonable to suspect that the Jets’ offense will not be significantly hampered by the loss of Smith.
Smith’s game is riddled with question marks and he has yet to post a season with more touchdown passes than interceptions. It is certainly possible that Smith could take a big leap forward in his third season, but no one can honestly be certain that Smith will ever become a competent NFL quarterback after his injury.
Smith is the boom or bust prospect, a youngster with a high ceiling but plenty of uncertainty. His backup, Ryan Fitzpatrick, is the polar opposite. Fitzpatrick will never be a great quarterback, but year after year he has managed to post average numbers. Fitzpatrick has shown that he can competently manage an NFL offense. Take a quick glance at his numbers the past five seasons from Pro Football Reference:
Fitzpatrick’s stats are nothing special, but they do represent adequate quarterback play. In particular, Fitzpatrick has shown that he can be successful working with current Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey (italicized years). Reuniting Fitzpatrick with Gailey and giving him potent wide receiving weapons in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker should enable him to thrive in New York. At the very least, Fitzpatrick should serve as a capable replacement until Smith returns.
Argument #2 – The Jets locker room is a dysfunction-ridden mess.
In light of this major incident, many sports pundits are quick to question the leadership, competence and character of the Jets’ locker room. A team prone to infighting must reflect poor coaching and a lack of unity among the players, they reason.
However, a quick glance around the NFL shows that training camp fights are actually pretty common. In fact, Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton was involved in a training camp fight the day before the Geno Smith injury. The only difference is that Newton walked away from the incident unscathed.
It is true that the Enemkpali-Smith fight, coupled with Richardson’s misdeeds, does not reflect well on the organization. And it is clear that new head coach Todd Bowles needs to instill a greater sense of discipline and unity in his players.
August 11, 2015; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles during training camp at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports
But in a league that has seen Michael Vick, Greg Hardy, Aaron Hernandez, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and a litany of other prominent players commit heinous crimes, accusing any one team of having character problems is absurd.
Bowles took a great first step in reestablishing order in the Jets’ locker room, releasing Enemkpali. Before bemoaning the toxic locker room culture, Jets fans should let the season play out and afford Bowles an opportunity to mold this team.
The preseason has not been kind to the Jets or their fans. But the many strengths of the Jets: their defensive front seven, their rebuilt secondary and their talented receiving corp, have not gone anywhere. It is far too early to make any serious predictions about how the Smith injury will impact the team, so Jets fans may as well take a breath, stay calm, and get excited about the imminent return of football.