This interview is a full-circle moment for me. Some of you on GGN may remember that before I became the writer for Flight Connections, I was the person writing multiple fan posts about a specific New York Jets player. That player was Quincy Enunwa.
Quincy Enunwa is a former member of the New York Jets. Quincy was drafted by the team in 2014 out of Nebraska, and soon became a fan favorite on the Jets. Unfortunately, neck injuries derailed what could have been a promising career in the NFL. I was fortunate enough to speak with Quincy to discuss his time with the Jets, the current situation of the team, and life after football. Below is the transcript from our conversation. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Thomas Christopher: You played four years at Nebraska before being drafted in 2014, Rex Ryan’s last year with the Jets. How would you describe the difference in atmosphere from college to the NFL?
Quincy Enunwa: To be honest the college atmosphere is probably more intense for lack of a better word. The fan bases in college tend to ride a little bit harder because there’s more of a connection for a lot of people. It’s their school, and you can’t really beat the student section in a football game. Nothing matches the energy there. And Nebraska is another level. The history there, it made it really fun and welcoming. That’s not to say that in New York it’s not like that, but if I’m comparing the two, the college atmosphere is just different. The stadiums tend to be bigger too, at least in the Big Ten.
TC: Oh yeah, I recall seeing memes about the sizes of college stadiums compared to soccer stadiums in Europe and the size differences. It’s a great atmosphere. Now, you played under three head coaches for the Jets. Your first year was with Rex Ryan, then Todd Bowles, and finally with Adam Gase. In what way, if any, did those coaches impact you? And who impacted you the most?
QE: So I had coach Bowles the longest, so he probably made the biggest impact on me. But I wouldn’t say that Rex didn’t have an impact on me. I tell everybody this. My one thing that I remember the most about him was the last game of the year against the Dolphins. He was walking through the stretch lines and he said to me, ‘this is where your story begins’. For me it was cool. Maybe he did know, maybe he didn’t, but he had some idea that I would’ve had a longer career than the average player. It was cool for him to make that statement to me, and I carry that with me and make sure to continue the story past that year.
With coach Bowles, he made me a captain. I had some of my best years with him. I have nothing but positive things to say. It was a great time with him.
Even with coach Gase; we bumped heads but I think in terms of being a players coach, he really wanted the guys to like him.
TC: Yeah I don’t think fans or players were fully prepared for the hiring of Gase. I think it took many by surprise. Especially with how that tenure went, I’m sure it wasn’t a fun time as a player. Overall, throughout high school, college, or the NFL, did you have a favorite coach?
QE: Oh man, a favorite coach? That’s tough man because I’ve had so many coaches. I can’t say there’s a favorite. At every level, I feel like my coaches made a huge impact. At high school, my head coach and my receiver coach made an impact. At Nebraska, coach Bo [Pelini] and coach Fish [Rich Fisher[, those two guys really made an impact. There’s not one coach that stands out, but each coach provided things I picked up on, from their personality to their belief in me. It helped me get to the next level.
TC: Oh yeah, I still remember my college coaches.
QE: For real, it doesn’t matter man, coaches are important. That’s why I try to do a little bit of coaching when I can. You never know what kind of impact you’ll make on a kid.
TC: Exactly. So when I talk about you to newer fans, I like to reference you as a Deebo Samuel-like player before Deebo was a thing in the NFL. Was there a favorite concept or play that you liked to run?
QE: We had a few times where I’d run Overs and stuff. For me I really enjoyed finding the zones and getting in that space in the middle of the field. But also, anything that got the ball in my hands in space. It gave me an opportunity to do what I like to do which is running with the ball in my hands. But the one thing I didn’t get a lot of opportunities to do [which I’d like to have had more of] is hand-offs. I think I had maybe two or three and that was fun. I like to have the ball in my hands so it was the quickest way to get there and let me do what I wanted to do. Those are probably at the top of my list.
TC: It would have been awesome to see you get more opportunities out of the backfield. Unfortunately as most Jets fans know, your career would be cut short due to neck injuries. As someone with neck injuries as well, I was curious how you’d describe your rehab process coming back from your injuries?
QE: The first injury was probably the most significant in terms of rehab because I had surgery; the second one I didn’t have to. It was a lot of walking at first, I didn’t really have much physical therapy. It was just, get out and move, you know? I was living in Montclair at the time so I was walking about Montclair with a neck brace. It was crazy. But after that we started to do strength exercises, more of the shoulders than anything else. It was a long process. There weren’t many setbacks because it wasn’t an injury I had to ‘push’, like a joint injury or a knee injury. It was more like letting the process happen and continue to work around it. In that aspect I appreciate that it was the injury that I had, because it allowed me to get back on the field without being too concerned about anything.
TC: Right, I think people were surprised to see you come back after the first neck injury given the circumstances. Do you have any lingering effects from those injuries?
QE: Occasionally. I try to make sure that I’m staying in shape, working out, because I feel like when I stop doing things, that’s when I start to feel more of those residual effects. At times [I get zingers], I still have a herniated disc. If I were to do anything that created more stress on that, then those things occur more.
TC: You played your whole career with the Jets. Was there any moment that stuck out to you as your favorite memory?
QE: Favorite memory would probably be beating the Patriots win in overtime [in 2015]. That was really fun. I wish we would have won that next week and gone into the playoffs, but in terms of the impact of that game, what I was able to do, I think that is one of those games that I look back at and am happy about.
TC: Oh yeah, I thought ‘15 was the year. That team looked really good. Looking back it’s been a rough stretch against the Patriots.
QE: Yep, that was the last time that we beat them. It’s crazy. And to be honest with you it’s even crazier because they weren’t even playing all their starters, either.
TC: Jumping to the team now, what do you think is this Jets team’s current ceiling without Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Do you think they’re a playoff team, borderline .500? What do you think the outlook is?
QE: If you asked me a couple of weeks ago I would have said maybe they need to figure out what they’re going to do. I’m a fan of the way Zach has been growing. He showed us last year a bit who he is. I think a lot of that had to do with the setbacks he had. He lost his quarterback coach, had an injury, changed coordinators. There’s a lot of different things going on with Zach that play into the product we see on the field. Now obviously he has his own personal responsibility. I think this year he’s really taken control of that.
If Zach plays the way he did last week, they can make it to the playoffs. Seventy percent completion percentage, two touchdowns, zero interceptions. But he has to be consistent and he hasn’t shown that he can be consistent - yet. So i think it’s a week-by-week thing. You just kind of keep watching and hope he continues to improve the way he has been. And I think he has been improving. Improving his skillset, his decision-making. I say all that to say, they go as far as Zach goes.
TC: That’s my thoughts as well. It all comes down to him. His struggles have been documented, but how can you as a receiver help a struggling quarterback ‘get right’?
QE: The biggest thing is to make the catches that need to be made. It’s tough, but I think there’s times where guys can make more plays for him. At the same time, keep encouraging him, talking to him, and getting open. Making sure you’re in the right spot, right where you need to be, when he needs you to be there. That’s the biggest thing. He’s kind of operating on-schedule. Because of that, he needs you to be where he needs you to be, at that time. Once he gets more comfortable and able to freestyle a bit, you can freestyle with him. But at this moment now, the receivers need to be right where they’re supposed to be at.
TC: Right. How often do we see timing play a factor in elite offenses and quarterback and wide receiver duos. I think with Zach going back and forth being a starter to sitting, and plenty of other variables, it’s extended the learning process. Speaking of wide receivers, Mecole Hardman signed with the Jets this offseason on a one-year contract. The thought process was that the team was going to expand his route tree and utilize him more, but that hasn’t been the case. Do you think there’s a reason for that? Whether it’s a playbook knowledge issue, or something else?
QE: That’s a good question. I’m honestly trying to figure that out as well. I haven’t really had a chance to comb through the film to see the few reps that he’s had. But I think in total he’s had maybe 22 reps throughout all of the games. It’s interesting. It’s something to look into if you’re a fan. I probably wouldn’t look too far into it, but I understand being upset about it because you paid this guy this money. As a fan base you want to see him on the field. Especially if you think about the fact that it seems like [Xavier] Gipson is getting more reps than him. That’s a mystery. It’s something that as the season goes on, maybe something will come out, or maybe he’ll start getting more reps.
TC: I hope so, the kid can fly. I think everyone would rather see him outside as the X than tight end C.J. Uzomah. No offense to CJ, but defenses are likely to be more concerned about a player who can run a 4.33 40-yard dash than a tight end on the outside. I’m glad you mentioned Gipson, because I wanted to talk about him as well. Do you think he provides more value than Randall Cobb at the slot right now? Or do you believe because Cobb is more familiar with the system, that he’s better suited to be out there?
QE: It’s tough. I mean, I think as Zach gets more comfortable in the offense, they could change the usage. But Cobb is a vet. You need a security blanket out there. You need someone who is going to be where they’re supposed to be at. He had a critical catch on third down against the sideline. He’s also a guy that isn’t going to just do it for himself. If a player has a question, maybe they can’t go to Zach, but they can go to Cobb. That’s tough. I understand the importance of vets on the team, and I understand that people want to see exciting playmakers out there. It’s about finding that balance.
TC: Absolutely. What would you like to see done by the coaching staff to improve the team? They gained a little momentum against the Chiefs, but in the end it was still a loss. What do you think can be done to improve the team?
QE: Offensively I saw them take a lot of good snaps. Bootlegs, motion, getting Zach out on the perimeter a few times. The line was doing a better job for him. Offensively I would say to continue to go in that direction.
Defensively, they need to get more stops early. You can’t commit penalties. Explosive plays. It’s easy to say those will kill you, but you need to stop them because they’re drive killers. They did so many other good things, but weren’t able to stop the run. KC had something like 200 yards on the ground. It’s good that they kept Mahomes under 300 yards. They’ve had something like 22 games where they’ve kept a quarterback under that mark. The passing defense has done a great job, it’s just finding a way to stop the run. Especially against running quarterbacks. That’s another thing, and there’s a few left on the schedule. Finding a way to plug those holes up, that’s the most important thing. There’s been a couple games where they let people do a little bit too much. They’re not playing complete football.
Think about the Cowboys game. There was a lot of dink and dunk down the field. They had so many drives against the Jets that were 12-play drives. That’s not what you want to see. You have to get these guys off the field regardless of what the offense is doing. I think if the offense can continues on this route and the defense understands what’s going on it’ll become more complete football. It’s still early in the season.
TC: Right. I think it’s caught some Jets fans by surprise because for years the team was so great against the run and now that has kind of flipped in recent years. This has been a hot topic, so I wanted to get your take. Do you think that the Chiefs were given favorable calls in the SNF game against the Jets?
QE: I understand people being upset with the refs. I think that the refs missed some calls, and I saw a lot of the outrage online. I didn’t see them miss a lot of calls going the other way, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. Obviously I have biased eyes. Ultimately, [the Chiefs] are pretty similar to the Patriots now in terms of that they’re going to capitalize off your mistakes. If you can make less mistakes you can win those games. If you continue to make mistakes or put yourself in a position where they have those opportunities, they’re going to win off of those. The Chiefs may say that the Jets received some calls that they didn’t like, but they were able to capitalize and they won the game. If we would have won the game, no one would even be talking about the calls.
TC: You’re not wrong there. Last question from me: now that you’re retired, what are your plans in a post-NFL career?
QE: Right now I’m doing a little bit of analyst work. Honestly, I’ve been enjoying being a dad. It’s been very rewarding, so there’s no rush for me to figure out where I wanna go. I have a good spot right now with the Jets working pre and post-game show. We have a whole studio out there, a stage, good guests every weekend. That’s been pretty cool. It keeps me around the facility, keeps me close to the team and connected to football, and that’s important for me. I’m just taking it day-by-day from here.
TC: Quincy, thank you for taking the time out to speak to me. This is a full-circle moment for me as a big fan of yours, so I really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you.
QE: Thank you. I appreciate your support and appreciate you reaching out.