FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Quincy Enunwa was coming off a breakout season and looking to establish himself last summer as a big-time playmaker for the New York Jets.
In one scary moment, that came to an abrupt halt.
The former Husker wide receiver was running a route when he dropped a pass during 7-on-7 drills. He took a step and fell to the turf face-first despite not having been touched.
He didn’t move for a few moments. His neck wouldn’t let him.
Fear set in, if only briefly, that Enunwa’s football career could be in jeopardy.
“At the beginning,” he recalled after a recent training camp practice, “definitely.”
Enunwa had a bulging disk in his neck, the culmination of problems he had been dealing with for most of the last several months. He had surgery a few weeks later and was reassured he would be able to play again. But first there would be several months of grueling rehab.
“I knew physically, there was no way that I would not be back on the field,” Enunwa said. “I knew I would hit every timetable and do everything I needed to do. I have confidence in myself as a physical guy, so I knew I was going to do the work and get back as soon as possible.”
Enunwa’s comeback appears nearly complete.
After sitting out offseason workouts and participating on a limited basis in minicamp, the former Nebraska star has been practicing every day during training camp.
“It feels really good, yeah,” he said. “I mean, there are really no issues. I’m having fun, flying around. I can’t complain.”
Enunwa is still wearing a red, no-contact pinnie during padded practices, but hopes to shed that soon.
“I’d say it’s protocol,” he said. “I’m just going on their kind of timeline, doing what I need to do, but I’m having fun, though.”
Coach Todd Bowles wouldn’t declare Enunwa as being at “full speed” just yet.
“He’s doing everything, but it’s just precautionary,” Bowles said. “We’ll find a time and place and see if we get it right.”
Enunwa was a sixth-round draft pick of the Jets in 2014 and saw limited action in his first two seasons. In 2016, he emerged as a vital part of the offense by working in a hybrid wide receiver/tight end/H-back role and setting career highs with 58 catches for 857 yards and four touchdowns.
Even more was expected going into last season — until the injury short-circuited those plans.
The doctors took a cautious approach with Enunwa’s rehab, not wanting to rush him back. But as the Jets trudged through a 5-11 season, Enunwa wished he could help.
“Physically, I was able to, but they told me not to,” he said. “So, it was kind of just sitting around and doing bike stuff, so those were the times when I was really anxious to get back out there to run and catch passes.”
He has been doing exactly that during the first four practices of camp, including catching a touchdown toss from rookie Sam Darnold in team drills Monday.
Enunwa says his days of being an H-back are over — “I was drafted as a receiver and I want to play receiver” — and he helps give the Jets an intriguing group that also includes Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse and Terrelle Pryor.
“It’s great to have Q back out there,” quarterback Josh McCown said. “Just his energy and his work ethic is great to have on the field.”
At 6-foot-2 and a well-chiseled 225 pounds, the 26-year-old Enunwa is a physical specimen. With his mix of size, strength and speed, he reminds McCown of a former star teammate.
“I had the opportunity to play with Anquan Boldin and Quincy kind of has that after-catch, that tough mentality,” McCown said. “Every day he’s on the field with us and is back I think is a good day for us.”
This is a big year for Enunwa, and not just because of his comeback. He signed his second-round restricted free agent tender in April, and could potentially be an unrestricted free agent next offseason.
“That next contract is what everybody wants to get to,” Enunwa said. “So I’m definitely looking forward to just playing my best right now. I’m not thinking too much about the contract because I have my own personal goals, and I know that those personal goals will help the team’s goals and will eventually help my contract goals.
“So, for me, it’s just going out there and performing and showing what I can do.”
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