Florham Park N.J. - It always seems a quarterback controversy finds a home in Florham Park during the summer. Some years are more heated than others. This year was slightly different. When Ryan Fitzpatrick signed, he assumed the starting role that was his in 2015. Geno Smith - the team's embattled draft pick in 2013 - became the designated back up, while two spring chickens - Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg - competed to improve and make the active roster.
Typically, when there is a quarterback controversy around the league, it involves at least two men battling to be a team's starter. The Jets - a team that has done many things uniquely in its history - had a controversy surrounding their back up position. Yet, Todd Bowles' plan from day one of minicamp involved four quarterbacks with the last names of: Fitzpatrick, Smith, Petty, and Hackenberg in that order.
With frustrations mounting from Jets fans on Geno Smith and patience wearing thin, some were prepared to anoint Petty as the team's back up quarterback without the latter ever playing one snap under center during the regular season. While Petty has come a long way from his days in a simplified Baylor offense, he was still too far away on his road of development to even think about dethroning Smith in training camp.
The shoulder injury Petty suffered in the final preseason game should not stun his progression as an MRI revealed a bruised shoulder with no structural damage. Head coach Todd Bowles said Petty will not be placed on Injured Reserve before roster cuts.
Jets fans loved refreshing their Twitter newsfeeds during August to see a media-infused quarterback controversy, when ultimately it was nowhere close. The back up position belonged to Smith - his performance during practice reinforced that notion. While Petty did struggle, one can argue he was one of the hardest workers on the field in Florham Park this summer. Petty knew any missed rep meant a chalk mark in Geno Smith or Christian Hackenberg's column. He relished every opportunity given to him.
"There's a process to it, you're not going to get better in one day," Petty said during training camp. "I'm doing extra practice all the time. You've got to get as many reps as you can get. With four quarterbacks, it is tough."
More often than not, it was Petty and Hackenberg working with Fitzpatrick and quarterbacks coach Kevin Patullo at the end of practice. Geno Smith occasionally joined the group in the voluntary extra session. The horn may have sounded 20 minutes earlier, but the two quarterbacks some Jets fans consider the future of the organization remained on the field in the sweltering heat - pads and all. If there is one thing to take from a preseason that saw the two young quarterbacks have their share of struggles, it is their work ethic and desire to improve as a unit.
"I have to be as prepared as I can be and just take advantage of the opportunities I get," Hackenberg said after his extra workout. "I'm just trying to take my reps and manufacture them before and after practice. That's my mindset."
There is no question Petty and Hackenberg improved from the start of OTAs despite a lack of reps on certain afternoons. That does not mean they were ready to become the starting or back up quarterback for the New York Jets. It takes time to construct something excellent. Rome wasn't built in a day. But, each day that passed, the young guns would lay some bricks down and grow more as an individual and an athlete. The two also grew more comfortable with the playbook and fed off each other's competition. With that said, they struggled to find consistency, which led to more reps for Smith to stamp himself as the team's second option.
In the back of their minds, they knew the stakes - a roster spot was potentially in jeopardy. But, Petty and Hackenberg insisted they never thought about it, let it hinder their relationship, or let it affect the team. In the end, while they desired to improve as a player, they wanted to do whatever in their power to benefit the team.
"The meeting room is fun because we are all on the same team," said Petty. "We know what's out there, but we don't think about it. In the end, when we are all improving, it helps the team improve."
"Bryce has some perspective with handling stuff at this level," Hackenberg said after being asked if Petty has offered any advice being that he was in the same situation in 2015. "He has helped a ton, but so has Fitz and Geno."
It is a collective effort to get better for Petty and Hackenberg. But, they still have a long road ahead of them before they can be labeled the franchise quarterbacks of the New York Jets. As of now, Ryan Fitzpatrick is the number one, Geno Smith is the number two, Bryce Petty is the number three, and Christian Hackenberg is the number four quarterback on the depth chart. Going into 2017, the only two quarterbacks under contract will be Petty and Hackenberg as Fitzpatrick and Smith have expiring deals. The Jets will need to see more progression from the young signal callers in practice before trust can be instilled. Petty and Hackenberg have talent and their ceiling is high, but the exit is still far away on their road of development.
Joe Barone is a staff writer for JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@28JoeBarone), or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)