Buffalo claims Enemkpali off waivers after Geno punch
PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Rex Ryan won't excuse linebacker Ikemefuna Enemkpali for a sucker punch that broke quarterback Geno Smith's jaw in the New York Jets' locker room.
That doesn't mean Ryan, the former Jets coach in his first season in Buffalo, isn't willing to provide Enemkpali a second chance with the Bills.
With new owner Terry Pegula's blessing, the Bills claimed Enemkpali off waivers a day after he punched Smith and was released by the Jets.
"It's clear it was a mistake. Nothing justifies hitting somebody and all that stuff. And I'm not trying to say that it wasn't a mistake," Ryan said before the Bills opened an evening practice. "But I also believe that he's going to learn from this. And we'll give him a chance to compete."
Ryan recalled Enemkpali being a "good teammate" in New York, and is confident he will be accepted by Bills players.
"Look at every person in that locker room; not anybody's perfect," Ryan said. "But they know that I feel in my heart that this young man will be successful for us."
Running back Fred Jackson is set to welcome Enemkpali and adds he doesn't owe Bills players an explanation.
"When he gets here, he's got a clean slate with us. We'll see how everything works out, but I'm excited to have him," Jackson said. "What happened in New York happened there. It's not something we have to worry about here in Buffalo."
Defensive tackle Kyle Williams said he's not going to prejudge Enemkpali.
"I'm not going to say he's totally wrong or anything like that, because I don't know the circumstances," Williams said. "I'm sure there's things that would make me want to hit somebody, too, but I just don't know what it was."
Enemkpali's addition is the latest offseason twist between the AFC East rivals.
Aside from hiring Ryan and much of his coaching staff, the Bills also signed former Jets receiver Percy Harvin in March.
In New York, former Bills coach Chan Gailey is the Jets' offensive coordinator. And former Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is taking over in place of Smith, who is expected to miss six to 10 weeks.
Ryan stressed there's no guarantee Enemkpali will make the team. Though it's unclear when he'll report to the Bills, Ryan didn't rule out the possibility of Enemkpali playing in Buffalo's preseason opener against Carolina on Friday.
Enemkpali's addition means Smith might not have seen the last of the linebacker.
Smith should be back in the lineup for the New York's first meeting against Buffalo, a prime-time game Thursday, Nov. 12 at the Meadowlands.
Enemkpali could face discipline from the NFL under its personal conduct policy.
An NFL spokesman said Wednesday that the league is reviewing the situation. Any incident involving workplace violence that occurs off the football field falls under the NFL's personal conduct policy. That means any team interested in signing Enemkpali, a sixth-round pick last year out of Louisiana Tech, might have to weigh a possible suspension.
Enemkpali, who had three tackles in six games last season, could also face legal charges if Smith pursues them.
"It was childish, either way, and it was stupid," Jets coach Todd Bowles said. "But we have to live with the results."
The Jets were off from practice Wednesday as they prepare to head to Detroit for their preseason opener on Thursday night. The team will then have another day off from the practice field before returning Saturday.
The incident clearly rattled and angered many Jets players, who were stunned that something of this nature happened in their locker room.
"This isn't a UFC match," Jets guard Willie Colon said. "We're football players, not fighters."
Enemkpali, from Pflugerville, Texas, has been in previous trouble for fighting. He was suspended from the Louisiana Tech team in 2011 after being arrested for an off-campus incident in which he was booked for disturbing the peace and battery of a police officer.
Bowles said Enemkpali was "remorseful" when he spoke to him, and the linebacker later released a statement through his agent, apologizing to the team and fans.
"Geno and I let our frustration get the best of us, but I should have just walked away from the situation," Enemkpali said. "I deeply regret and apologize for my actions. It was never my intention to harm anyone. I appreciate the opportunity I had with the Jets."
Enemkpali joins a Bills team that features several players who have had off- and on-field troubles.
Starting left guard Richie Incognito was signed in January after he was out of football for 15 months after playing a central role in the Miami Dolphins' bullying scandal. Harvin had several run-ins with teammates in Seattle and was recently dubbed by Sports Illustrated as the NFL's "most-hated player in the locker room."
And then there's offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who will miss the first six games after the Bills suspended him for allegedly punching a boy in Florida in an altercation over beach chairs.