FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Jets head coach Adam Gase spent months building his offense around the receivers he had, insisting the group was better, more diverse than most people thought. Quincy Enunwa, as his tough, sure-handed possession receiver, was a big part of that equation.
So what is Gase going to do now?
The short answer in the NFL is always "next man up," but it's never that simple when a key player is lost during the season. And it could be particularly difficult for Gase to replace Enunwa, who is now lost for the season with another neck injury, because there's no one on the Jets roster who can really do what the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder could.
"There are some certain routes that were for him that nobody else really does," Gase said on Wednesday morning. "He does a lot of the dirty work that nobody really notices. So there are some of those things that we won't be able to do."
In past years, when he was healthy, Enunwa was often used like a tight end. He was sent on tough routes, often over the middle, where he would take a pounding as the season wore on. But his strength was that he could give as good as he got with those hits, and often was able to barrel through them for extra yardage.
"The way he plays, everything is violent," Gase said. "He gives everything he has."
Now, there's no way Jamison Crowder (5-foot-9, 177 pounds) or Robby Anderson (6-3, 190) could fill that role. They're too small to take that kind of physical abuse, and they already have their own, important roles in the Gase offense anyway. Josh Bellamy (6-foot, 208) and Braxton Berrios (5-9, 190) aren't really built for the job, either.
That means Demaryius Thomas, newly acquired in a trade with (amazingly) the New England Patriots, is the most likely candidate to fill Enunwa's spot. He's got the size (6-3, 225) and certainly can take a pounding. Plus, he knows Gase's offense well from their days together in Denver. Gase was the Broncos' receivers coach when they made Thomas a first-round pick in 2010 and they were together all the way through Gase's two years as offensive coordinator in 2013-14.
Those were two of Thomas' best seasons, in fact (92 catches, 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013, and 111 catches for 1,619 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2014).
Of course, that was a long time ago.
"He's not 24 anymore. I mean I'm not stupid in that aspect. I understand there's an aging process here," Gase said. "But he's still a big man that can run really well for a guy his size."
Thomas is now 31, and he's nine months removed from tearing his Achilles tendon in late December while playing for the Texans. And it's worth noting that the Patriots were unimpressed enough with him that they thought nothing of sending him to their division rivals for a sixth-round pick.
Still, he may be the only guy capable of being the bruiser in the offense, especially while tight end Chris Herndon is serving the remainder of his four-game suspension. He's "smart" and "versatile" enough to be a help, Gase said -- assuming he really does still have something left.
"He looked good in that last preseason game that we watched," Gase said, though he didn't note that it was against the Giants and that they didn't start any of their first-team safeties or corners. "He seems like he's in a good place. We'll kind of see how it goes. He knows the offense and he can easily be plugged in. He still remembers everything."
If it works out, Thomas could end up being the best possible solution to the Jets' unexpected problem. If not, they'll have to scramble to figure something else out quickly, because one way or another, the "dirty work" has to get done.