Erik Ainge is technically in the running for the Jets quarterback spot. It’s an opportunity not always afforded to the third-stringer, a fifth-round draft pick last season, but the Jets brass have been sincere in extending it.
For the last two weeks, Ainge has not been at the morning workouts at the Jets training facility, or the positional classes that follow. A Jets spokesperson said that the sessions are technically voluntary, but every roster player other than Thomas Jones, currently in a contract negotiation with the team, is there to learn the new system being implemented by new coach Rex Ryan.
Ainge was at the facility on Thurs. March 26, the first time the media was allowed back to talk to players. For the last two weeks however, he has not been in the locker room for that availability, and several teammates said they had not seen him at the facility in at least a full week.
His agent, James Sexton, did not return several calls seeking a comment on the situation. The Jets would not comment other than to say the sessions are voluntary.
In the audio clip below, Ainge responds to a question about the three-way quarterback competition on March 26.
The workouts are not mandatory, but for a player starting a distant third in a position race, these weeks are critical if he is going to make a play for the starting or backup job. Ryan has said that this is a truly open competition for the in-house candidates, which is backed up by the half-hearted way the team pursued Jay Cutler before he was acquired by the Bears.
Ainge dealt with a few setbacks last season, and was the fourth player at his position behind Brett Favre, Kellen Clemens and Brett Ratliff. Before the offseason training activities began last season, Ainge had a procedure done on his right pinkie finger and a brace limited his ability to throw.
Once that was healed, Ainge hurt his foot and was placed on injured reserve. Ainge was later found in violation the NFL’s policy on steroids and related substances in November, and was suspended for four games. He denied he had taken steroids when he came back.
After the Jets season ended without making the playoffs, Ainge returned to the Jets facility about a month later to begin working out in preparation for the quarterback competition to replace Favre.
“I think Erik Ainge had a meaningful impact on our team this year, despite the fact he did get hurt and had some other little bumps in the road, but I am really glad that Erik Ainge is with us,” Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said on Feb. 20. “He has every opportunity to compete for playing time and the best players will play and that is what is really fun from where I sit in the world.”
Ainge picked up No. 10 this season, the number worn by Chad Pennington until the veteran left the Jets for Miami last August. Ainge played for the University of Tennessee, where he was the SEC offensive freshman of the year.