Jets’ Wilson working to overcome early season struggles
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Zach Wilson has been knocked around, tossed to the turf, made a few costly mistakes and been booed by his own team’s fans.
And it’s just three games — all losses —- into the New York Jets quarterback’s NFL career.
Not exactly how the No. 2 overall pick envisioned things going. But he’s far from down and discouraged.
“I would say mentally I feel good,” Wilson said. “I would say I feel really good. I feel confident. Besides everything else, I feel like watching the tape with us and going through things, I feel like it’s really close. I feel like every play it’s one guy here, one guy there and we need all 11 to be great.
“I need to do my part, of course. I’m included in that one guy making that mistake.”
Wilson is front and center, though, in the spotlight along with first-year offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur for why the Jets have struggled on offense, scoring just 20 points through three games and only six in the past two — including none in a 26-0 loss at Denver last Sunday.
“We didn’t execute very well, which was disappointing because I look at that as coaching,” LaFleur said. “When guys aren’t executing, you’ve got to figure out what’s going wrong, what are the players not hearing that’s not allowing the execution? So, I challenged the coaches — I challenged myself — how can we make it easier?
“Sometimes people think ‘easier’ is like you take out plays, you stop motion — no. How can you say it in a way that these guys can understand it better? Because you can’t win in this league until you execute. It’s such a precision league and we’re not doing that right now. So, we’ve got to get that fixed.”
Wilson and the offense will get that chance Sunday against Tennessee at MetLife Stadium, where the quarterback was booed late in the Jets’ 25-6 loss to New England two weeks ago.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel called Wilson “ultra-talented.” Safety Kevin Byard has also seen flashes of what made the Jets quarterback so highly regarded coming out of BYU.
“Watching him, honestly, he has a really good skillset,” Byard said. “I mean, he’s really good (with) escapability out of the pocket. But it’s funny because, I mean, you look at all the rookie quarterbacks this year, they’re all kind of struggling a little bit and especially early in the year.”
Wilson has just two touchdown passes — both in the season opener — and seven interceptions, which tie him with Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence, the player picked ahead of him, for the most in the NFL entering Week 4.
Wilson has also been sacked a league-high 15 times, a product of suspect play-calling, bad blocking and the quarterback not getting rid of the ball fast enough.
“That’s a collective thing,” coach Robert Saleh said. “We’ve all got to do better protecting him, play callers got to be better protecting him, offensive line’s got to be better, the receivers got to be better. Everyone’s got to be better. He’s got to better for himself, too. Again, we see it, now we’ve just got to make it happen on Sunday.”
It also hasn’t helped Wilson that he opened his NFL career against three of the league’s top defenses/defensive minds in Carolina’s Phil Snow, New England’s Bill Belichick and Denver’s Vic Fangio.
Saleh has told Wilson it’s OK to be boring at times. In other words, the young quarterback doesn’t need to make a big play on every play. He can check down and go short, just as long as it’s keeping the drives moving.
Wilson also must release the ball quicker at times. When he hesitates for just the slightest moment, it could blow up a play — as it did last week when Von Miller came flying into the backfield on third down and sacked him.
“Really, it just goes to just how quickly can you get through your reads and then understanding the flow of the game,” Wilson said. “If the pocket’s breaking down quicker, I need to be able to get the ball out of my hands faster. Sometimes if I’ve got to skip a couple reads and get the ball to my check-downs, feeling that, and it’s really just reacting to what they’ve given me. I think every single week, that can just keep getting better.”
Both Saleh and LaFleur insist they have seen improvements in Wilson the past few weeks, even if they’re difficult for most others to see.
“Now, he’s just got to go show the world,” Saleh said. “We’re excited about the direction he’s going in and eventually, it’s going to pop.”
It’s all in the education of a rookie quarterback.
The sacks will turn into big plays. The boos into cheers.
“To know him is to know he’s pretty unflappable,” defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins said of Wilson. “He’s having some growing pains along with the entire team. Of course, it will be magnified because of the position he plays and being the No. 2 pick and the market we’re in, it all culminates into a bigger story.
“But at the end of the day, he’s one of 11 on offense and he goes out there every day to get better and make this team better.”
AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed.
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