Quincy Enunwa can trace the problem back to Dec. 13, 2015, when a seemingly innocuous neck pain suffered during a Week 14 win against the Titans at MetLife Stadium began a gradual descend into an abyss that ultimately cost him the entire 2017 season.
While most of us believed Enunwa’s disk issues in his neck surfaced last summer before surgery put his career on hold, the Jets wide receiver told the Daily News that it was a three-year erosion that finally prompted him to go under the knife.
The scary image of Enunwa stumbling and falling face first to the ground after taking a step without being touched during the team’s intrasquad scrimmage last August punctuated a problem that finally was addressed three weeks later in the operating room.
Enunwa admitted he was scared for about a day before doctors assured him that this wasn’t a life-altering or career-threatening injury. The comeback rate was solid. The chances of reoccurrence were low as long as he didn’t rush the healing process.
“If it happens again, it’s not going to be like I have to have surgery again,” Enunwa told the News. “It’s going to be gradual just like this was. This happened three years ago and gradually got worse. I got hurt against the Titans in my second year… and it got progressively worse.”
Enunwa’s eight-month road back interestingly hasn’t included any post-surgical rehab. No physical therapy sessions. No intense neck stretches. Just rest. Lots of rest.
“It was easy. There was no rehab,” Enunwa said. “I had the surgery. I had a brace for a little bit. I didn’t have the brace for long. I had to sleep a certain way for a few days. After that, it was nothing. I wasn’t allowed to run (in the beginning). Otherwise, there was no rehab. Everything I did was for my legs, so when I got back I could run.”
The fourth-year wideout is running routes and making one-handed catches wearing a baseball cap at Organized Team Activities with a clear goal in mind this season.
“I want to be a difference maker,” Enunwa said.
The 6-2, 225-pound Enunwa has the skillset to be just that in Jeremy Bates’ West Coast Offense, a chess piece with the body of a tight end and mindset of a run-after-the-catch receiver.
“I think I can do a lot of things,” said Enunwa, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in 2019 after signing a one-year, $2.91 million restricted free agent deal. “For one, what I can do with the ball in my hand (with yards after the catch). I’m different from a lot of guys. I’m a big guy, but I can move well with the ball in my hands. I think that will give us an opportunity to do some things. I’m just excited to what whatever they want me to do. Whatever role they want me to play, I want to go out there and do it.”
Enunwa’s 2016 breakout season that included team highs in receiving yards (857) and touchdowns (four) to go along with the second-most receptions (58) and targets (105) set high expectations entering last season. He was projected to be the Jets’ top pass catcher before tingling sensations kept him out of minicamp and his fall during the Green and White scrimmage shut him down before the preseason.
His varied skillset has prompted many people to deem him a hybrid tight end, which isn’t exactly how he sees himself.
“It shows that I’m capable of doing both things, but I want to be a receiver,” Enunwa said of the hybrid label. “It was cool before because it helped me get my foot in the door of playing in the NFL. So, I appreciated that. But there’s a lot more things that I can do. I want to be able to show that so badly. People don’t think that I can, because I’m this size and I can do all those other things. They think I’m an H-Back. But guys around the facility know. I’m just waiting for my opportunity to show that. I wish I could have done that last year.”
Make no mistake: Enunwa isn’t a one-trick pony. He offers plenty of hidden value as a blocker in the run game. He’s proven that he can excel in the slot, where he caught 62 percent of his passes in 2016, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He even had the highest catch rate in the NFL on deep targets (passed of 20 or more yards in the air) two years ago, according to Pro Football Focus. There’s also plenty of room to grow for the 26-year-old, who needs to curtail his drops.
Could Enunwa eclipse 1,200 or even 1,300 yards as an outside receiver opposite Robby Anderson in Bates’ scheme?
“You got to think about it: I had 857 yards with Brandon Marshall on the other side,” Enunwa said. “On top of that, I never got the chance to be the opposite (outside) receiver. Most of the time, they put Robby in and I got 857 yards. So, imagine if I was a No. 2. Imagine if I was the No. 1. That’s a 1,000 right there. And I’m doing all types of other stuff like blocking… So that gave me a whole lot of confidence. Put me at receiver and I know what I can do. You just got to give me an opportunity.”
The Jets will give him the opportunity in training camp.
“Right now, we are cautious,” Todd Bowles said. “He doesn’t have a helmet right now, but he is running around, he is catching the ball and he is running his routes fine. I think the tell-tale (sign) will be when we put the pads on.”
“We’re going to be smart,” Enunwa added. “There’s no reason to go out there and stress it and do more than what I need to do. The real work comes in camp. So, we’ll keep it going. Eventually I’ll be out there with my helmet.”
He’s understandably anxious to remind everyone that he’s a pretty damn good football player. The wait has been excruciating.
“It’s crazy,” Enunwa said. “It’s just hard. It’s been difficult, but it’s given me that much more motivation. It’s given me time to reflect on what I did and what I didn’t do well, so that this year I know how to make myself a better player. I’m really excited because I think I got a lot to show. Not a lot to prove. Because if I say that I got a lot to prove, that’s putting pressure on. So, I got a lot to show.”
Training camp is less than two months away. It’s almost showtime.