It wasn’t anything fundamental, as far as needing to memorize more reads or working to get his footwork just right. It wasn’t anything emotional, either, as far as getting amped up knowing again he’s the No. 1.
No, see, it was actually something a bit smaller.
“I sweat a lot more,” Fitzpatrick said with slight smile. “I just got a few more reps.”
With Geno Smith sidelined 10 weeks with a broken jaw stemming from a locker room fight, Fitzpatrick has received a fast pass to the top of New York’s depth chart. No longer is the quarterback handling a clipboard on the side, but instead writing the latest chapter in the book of his journeyman career.
Since being drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL Draft, Fitzpatrick has bounced around the league, spending time with six different NFL Franchises. He started with two years in St. Louis, then went to Cincinnati for a year, made a home in Buffalo for four, left for Tennessee for a season, then to Houston, and, eventually, New York.
While his jerseys, coaches and teammates all regularly changed, one way or another at each stop, Fitzpatrick always got a chance to start a game or two. But aside from a couple years with the Bills, he was never the incumbent starter. In a way, Fitzpatrick believes that’s helped him: He’s never know what Day 2 would hold, so he always made sure to make the most of Day 1.
“Every time you get a chance to go out and play is an opportunity for you in this league,” Fitzpatrick said. “For me, after I’d got released from Buffalo, I didn’t know if I would have another opportunity as a starter.
“I understand that these opportunities are few and far between. I understand my time in this league is limited in terms of getting these opportunities, so I’m going to take advantage of every single rep I get.”
That includes reps that come during a little voluntary overtime.
Throughout the first three weeks of training camp, Fitzpatrick has been developing solid chemistry with receivers Quincy Enunwa, Salim Hakim and Shaq Evans. He knows a bit of what they’re thinking, where they’re going to be and he understands their body language.
The issue is Enunwa, Hakim and Evans are listed as the No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 receivers on the Jets depth chart. As the team’s new starter, Fitzpatrick is going to be working with the likes of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. The quarterback said he plans on spending time with the two running routes after practice to make up for lost time.
“We’ll have to do some extra throwing and communication,” Fitzpatrick said. “For me, I’m no longer the middle man in terms of talking to Brandon about a route and talking to Geno about a throw, or telling Geno about my experiences or certain ways I’ve thrown balls in the past.
“Now I’m the guy that can say, ‘Hey Brandon, let’s do this.’ Or ‘Deck, this is what the signal means.’ In a way, the role of the starter changes a lot.”
If Fitzpatrick is able to get on the same page as his receivers, he may be a difficult player to move from the starting spot. That wouldn’t exactly be a ‘bad situation,’ according to Jets head coach Todd Bowles. Speaking to the media after the news broke of Smith’s injury, Bowles made mention that if Fitzpatrick plays well enough, he has no problem keeping him as the team’s quarterback, even when Smith returns.
If the Jets sit 4-0 when Smith is ready, he’s not going to pull Fitzpatrick. If the Jets sit 5-0, he’s certainly not going to pull Fitzpatrick. If the Jets sit 6-0, there’s no way he’ll pull Fitzpatrick.
In a way, for the first time all camp, the job is Fitzpatrick’s to lose.
“It’s a conversation we’ll have when Geno comes back,” Bowles said. “You can lose your spot by injury, you can lose your spot by a bunch of things. If he’s playing great, and the ship is going the right way, you don’t make a move.”
For Fitzpatrick, the quarterback knows that if he wants to remain New York’s starter, he may just need to replicate what he accomplished a season ago. With the Texans in 2014, Fitzpatrick set a career high by completing 63.1 percent of his passes. In 12 games, he threw for 2,483 yards and 17 touchdowns with just eight interceptions.
He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t bad, either. He was solid. And for the Jets, that may just be good enough.
“If I didn’t wanna be here, or didn’t love this game, or didn’t have confidence in myself,” Fitzpatrick said, “I wouldn’t be standing here in front of you. I’d be off on vacation with my kids sailing off into the sunset.
“But I believe there is so much more I can continue to improve on and get better. And I’m ready for that challenge.”