FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Eric Decker said he didn’t need to talk to Geno Smith, but the Jets receiver did anyway. In the aftermath of missing three voluntary practices last week, Decker was forced to explain his whereabouts and where his allegiances lie.
The report that claimed he skipped the first week of OTAs as a sign of solidarity to unsigned quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick quickly spawned a full-on spectacle — one that thrust the Fitzpatrick standoff back into the spotlight and threatened to fracture relationships within the Jets locker room.
But after dismissing the report on Wednesday, Decker assured reporters that, even though he wants Fitzpatrick to return, he supports Smith, too.
“I think Geno understands that’s what it wasn’t about,” he said, referring to the narrative that he tried to “send a message” to ownership by no-showing. “He knows how I feel about him and the progress that he was making last year . . . I mean, the guy’s a player, he can play.
“That’s not something that I have to speak upon with him. We have our relationship, we know where each other stand and we’re men and we handle it in the locker room.”
Fellow receiver Brandon Marshall, who also was absent last week, insisted his bond with Smith is the same, despite his desire to have Fitzpatrick back.
“My relationship, just because he wasn’t the starter last year, hasn’t changed with Geno,” said Marshall, who was Smith’s roommate last offseason. “It’s the same exact relationship, if not even better.”
The veteran receiver said he saw subtle signs of growth in the young quarterback during Wednesday’s practice, noting that Smith showed a level of “comfort and confidence” going through hand signals in their two-minute drill.
“There was a sense of poise, comfort, and it was pretty good to watch him kind of manage the situation,” said Marshall, who has been a staunch Smith supporter since he arrived via trade in March 2015. “That’s the process for all players. You’ve got to give guys time. Every guy is different. He seems to be growing, and that’s a good thing for all of us. He’s doing a great job. I’m just happy for the kid. I’m proud of him.
“ . . . I was really excited not only for us, but also him, because he’s been through a lot,” Marshall said of Smith, who underwent surgery and lost his starting job after his jaw was broken in a locker room altercation with then-teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali on Aug. 11. “Some of it he did to himself. But that’s part of the process, man. You just go through things, and whether good or bad, it’s all part of growth.”
Jets coach Todd Bowles has also seen a change in Smith, who, despite throwing an interception to Buster Skrine, had an otherwise good day on the field.
“Having learned the system and having a year under his belt, you see more growth that way,” Bowles said. “Obviously it is still early in the stages, but right now you see the growth that way. From maturity of commanding the huddle and understanding where to go with the ball quicker.”
Fitzpatrick’s absence has also provided Smith with an opportunity to get more practice reps with the first-team offense.
“Right now we’re five days into OTAs. From a mental standpoint he’s getting a lot of reps and he’s getting to see things a lot clearer,” Bowles said. “Like I said, being in the system a year, I think it helps him from that standpoint. We’re not at the August standpoint where we can say that that opportunity has taken place yet. So it’s still early in the stage, but he is getting major reps.”