FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- When IK Enemkpali sucker-punched Geno Smith last month, breaking the New York Jets quarterback's jaw, he not only got himself kicked off the team but he changed the trajectory of the team's offense.
In Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Jets have a quarterback with far more experience – and it can be argued success - in the NFL than Smith. He's also a quarterback who has had success in this same offense run by offensive coordinator Chan Gailey.
In 2011 when Gailey was the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, Fitzpatrick was his quarterback. That season, Fitzpatrick threw for 3,832 yards, a number that would be third best in Jets franchise history for a single season. But while Fitzpatrick has had success in Gailey's offense, he delivers the ball differently than Smith.
It has nothing to do with arm strength, a battle that Smith with a cannon of an arm will win every time, but more on their mechanics. Smith throws the ball over the top while Fitzpatrick varies his delivery. This can lead to a number of batted down balls, as was the case in the second game of preseason against the Atlanta Falcons. But it also means that wide receivers need to adjust to how the ball is being slung.
"They both throw good balls. Sometimes [Fitzpatrick] gets creative and throws from the side. They both have great accuracy, good ball placement," wide receiver Eric Decker told Metro. "I think maybe ball placement or where you have to look. Geno comes over the top with all his balls; Fitz can come from the top, the side sometimes. You need to know where to look to get the ball."
Brian Schottenheimer. Tony Sparano. Marty Mornhinweg (for two years). All reputable offensive coordinators and all who failed with the Jets, failing to lead the unit to even a level of respectability. Since the 2010 season when the Jets had the No. 11 offense in the league, the team has been bottom-third in total offense every season since.
Enter Gailey who, through the working of a sucker-punch, now has Fitzpatrick as his quarterback again. He and his room of wide receivers have had a month now to try and piece together some cohesion with Fitzpatrick after Smith took the bulk of first team reps for much of the offseason.
"I think that process evolves every day, every practice that process evolves. And it has to. And it has to evolve all the way through," Gailey said on Thursday. "You can't quit evolving and getting to know each other from Game 1 to Game 19. You can't. You've got to evolve the whole time; getting to know each other better, getting a feel for each other better."
He admits that there are some changes to the offense as they shift towards Fitzpatrick being the starter...for now.
With more reps, Decker says, comes a better understanding of how a quarterback throws the ball. This means that the wide receiver is spending extra time on the practice field with his new (perhaps temporary) starting quarterback, getting a rhythm and understanding for how they can and will connect.
He will grab Fitzpatrick after practice and run through a route that doesn't seem to be clicking, working on some minor detail of some sort.
Catching the ball is the obvious bread and butter of a wide receiver's weekly paycheck and it is something that Decker, the Jets marquee free agent signing from last offseason, takes seriously.
Decker plays catch with tennis balls during the offseason - "I think the big part of drops in the NFL are your eyes, not your hands. I have that problem sometimes, looking up-field. It's a good way of getting the habit of tracking the ball before you make a move."
All of which leads Decker to stay after practice with Fitzpatrick to build familiarity with his placement and his mechanics.
But there are also little things that come into play from the quarterback's personal style and penchant for throwing the football. Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, who caught for Geno Smith the past two years and is now acclimating to Fitzpatrick for at least the short-term, said that he is impressed with the accuracy of both his quarterbacks - "catching from Geno and catching from Ryan, I don't think it's a big deal." But he's seeing some subtle differences.
"One thing about Ryan is he has a great touch on his ball, especially if a guy is coming across the middle of the field, running a thousand miles an hour, it can get hard to catch that ball. He does a good job of putting it on you, letting you be able to run with the ball," Kerley told Metro.
"I think Geno is doing a lot better job of doing that. When I first got with him, it was something that – not that I questioned – but it was something you can tell he could get better at. Now you can tell he's come a long way. You can tell his balls have a beautiful touch to it."