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Sullivan: Jets try to regroup without Eric Decker

October 13, 2016 GMT

FLORHAM PARK – Brandon Marshall was standing at his Jets’ locker stall Wednesday, lamenting the loss of his fellow starter at wide receiver, Eric Decker, who was placed on injured reserve in advance of shoulder surgery.

“It definitely hurts. He’s one of the great receivers in the league,” Marshall said. “But we’re more than confident in the younger guys we have. They’ll make plays. Right, Robby?”

With that, Marshall had swiveled his head to his right, where rookie wide receiver Robby Anderson sat. Anderson, an undrafted free agent out of Temple, made the roster following a standout training camp. He started the last two games in Decker’s place, lining up opposite Marshall, flanking Quincy Enunwa in the slot.

“Stand up! Right, Robby? Right? Make plays, right?,” Marshall, never short on personality, continued. “Guys like Robby, man, they’re studs and hungry, waiting for their opportunities and [to] see what they’re able to do. They’ll step in and be OK.”

Such was the story of the Jets as they got back to work in advance of a Monday night appearance in Arizona, opening their day with the official news that Decker’s season is over, ending it by discussing how they will move on without him. Just another slice of life in the cruelest physical league of them all, a reminder of the one consistent, predictable, unavoidable, indiscriminate reality of playing in the NFL: Players get injured.

But what this game takes away, so too does it give. A season-ending injury for one player means opportunity for another, a revolving door that proves the league-wide mantra of “next man up” as something more than cliché, but something necessary for survival. Imagine, when Jets coach Todd Bowles said Wednesday, “It’s difficult when you’ve got new guys in there, but it happens every week when you play in this league,” he wasn’t even talking about the wide receivers. He was talking about his secondary, still unsure whether veteran Darrelle Revis will be back for Monday night’s game in Arizona, a unit down to three healthy corners with any experience. He hadn’t even mentioned his ailing center or linebacker, either, as the availability of Nick Mangold and David Harris also remains to be seen.

“It’s a tough game, but the thing is, though, that everybody is dealing with injuries,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “You’re not sure who exactly is going to get hurt each year, but people are going to get hurt each year. Everybody plays hurt.

“It’s a tough game and nobody feels sorry for you in this league, because everybody’s dealing with stuff.”

But even if the Jets are falling apart physically, even if a 1-4 start makes it feels like their season had already been falling apart anyway, the NFL is cruelly consistent in another way: It stops for no one.

“We’re OK. It’s the NFL. It’s not about one guy,” Marshall said. “Out of respect to Decker, he’s a big part, he’s a talent in this league. But in the National Football League, it’s the truth: ‘Next man up.’ We have depth on this team. We have depth at the wide receiver position, so we’ll be fine. Everyone knows the type of talent Decker is and how special he is and what he means to our football team. I got my opportunity and I never turned back when Javon Walker and Rod Smith went down.

“We’re expecting these same guys to step up and continue to grow and make big plays.”

Marshall was speaking about the likes of Anderson, of Enunwa or of Charon Peake, who takes a step up in Fitzpatrick’s pecking order, all of them standing at a door whose hinges are swinging wide open with opportunity.

“It’s going to be a collective effort. It’s going to be a couple of different guys having to step in,” Fitzpatrick said. “[Eric] had a different skill set than a lot of the guys we have. Now knowing he’s not going to be back, [we’re] just trying to play to the strengths of some of the guys we have now in his spot. It will be a challenge for us, but I think we have the right guys to step in.”

It’s a huge loss, no doubt. When Fitzpatrick emerged (surprisingly) as the Jets’ offensive glue last season, he did so on the backs of Marshall and Decker, two veterans with whom he developed trust and confidence.

Now, with Marshall set up to receive all the extra attention from opposing defenses, Fitzpatrick is going to have to find rhythm in other spots. It’s hard to make that happen in a few days.

“When I have to throw on anticipation, I have to throw with trust,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s going to be a big part of it: … just communicating to those guys, whether it’s through a throw in practice we can talk about, or as we’re installing plays, where they’re expected to be and at what time they’re expected to be there. A lot of that is going to happen through repetition and out there on the practice field, and then doing it in the games. We have a lot of guys that are working hard right now.”

Anderson is one of them, and the young player who originally hails from Teaneck made sure to nod dutifully when Marshall called him out. He is ready to learn, to be one of the pieces constructing the post-Decker puzzle.

“Fitz is a great leader, a very experienced player [and] he’s been in this game for a long time. He brings all that experience to helping to mold a player like me,” Anderson said.

“Then I have Brandon too, and he’s very encouraging to me and has taken me under his wing. That’s what I’m working for, working to become one of the greats, be the best I can be.”

That’s how the NFL works. Injuries taketh away, and then they giveth.

Email: sullivan@northjersey.com