‘Captain’ Wilson prepared to lead Jets into season opener

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson warms up before an NFL preseason football game against the Philadelphia Eagles Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson warms up before an NFL preseason football game against the Philadelphia Eagles Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Zach Wilson is a rookie. He’s also a leader. And one of the New York Jets’ team captains.

It’s an impressive first impression for the young quarterback, who’s preparing for his NFL regular-season debut Sunday at Carolina.

“He’s ready to lead,” wide receiver Corey Davis said Wednesday.

That has been the case since the Jets zeroed in on Wilson and made the former BYU star the No. 2 overall draft pick in April. Wilson has opened eyes with his preparation, namely his process that is more like that of a veteran. He has also shown himself to be ready for the spotlight that is being inevitably shined on him as the next in a long line of would-be franchise quarterbacks for the Jets.

But there’s something different about Wilson, his teammates and coaches say. And being selected a team captain on offense by those teammates is a clear indication that they already believe in him.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Wilson said. “I think it’s a role you’ve definitely got to take seriously. It’s who people look up to on the team, who they feel like they can come to when any problems or whatever questions come about. I definitely don’t take it lightly. I thought it was cool.”

It’s not often a rookie steps in right away as a leader. There’s so much to learn about life in the NFL, let alone trying to be one of the guys every other player follows.

The 22-year-old Wilson wasn’t surprised by being selected by his teammates, though. He embraces the responsibility and all that comes with it.

“As a quarterback, I think that leadership role, obviously, should just be in place no matter what,” Wilson said. “That you kind of need to lead by example.”

That’s why Wilson often ends up sitting down and talking to players from different position groups during some down time in the cafeteria.

“Something I’ve tried to work on just myself is my personal, emotional connections with guys off the field,” Wilson said. “Obviously, everything is business when we’re here and on the field — you want to be that guy they can look to. But off the field, you want to be somebody that actually gets to know them and understands their background, where they came from, and so I think that’s super important: know everybody’s name and kind of their story.”

One of the few knocks on Wilson during the leadup to the draft was him not being voted a team captain for Week 1 of his final season at BYU. That led to some speculation as to whether he had a few character concerns, with some ignoring the fact Wilson was on the team’s “leadership council” — and it wasn’t even clear he’d be the starter entering the 2020 season.

Well, Wilson started and had an incredible year while forcing his way up the draft boards and putting that narrative about lack of leadership to bed. And now he’s a captain already in the NFL.

“When I did see it, I was like, ‘Oh, look at that,’” coach Robert Saleh said. “I think it’s more of a testament to him and the way he’s been able to conduct himself here. Like I said, you go to the cafeteria and he’s hanging out with his O-lineman, he’s got an infectious personality, so credit to him the way he’s handled himself so far.”

When he takes the field in Carolina on Sunday, he’ll be going up against the quarterback the Jets once considered their face of the franchise in Sam Darnold.

That matchup is obviously one of the highlights heading into the game: Did the Jets make a mistake trading Darnold? Did they make the right call on investing in Wilson?

None of that matters now, though. It will all be proven out — likely over the next several years.

Wilson is simply focused on leading the Jets into the opener.

And he’ll do it with a captain’s “C” on his chest.

“It is the first game and I’m really just doing everything I can to just get ready for that,” Wilson said. “I don’t know if I thought of it as the situation — this is a big moment, my first start. I think it’s exciting, but really, I’m excited to get back and playing football again and making sure I’m doing everything I can day in and day out to have the right routine to just get ready for this game.”

NOTES: In addition to Wilson, Davis was selected a team captain for offense. The defensive captains are linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi, with cornerback Justin Hardee selected for special teams. Saleh said the coaching staff will also select one additional player to serve as a captain for each game. ... LT Mekhi Becton cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol and was a full participant at practice. ... RB La’Mical Perine (foot) was limited, while S Sharrod Neasman (hamstring) sat out.


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Dennis Waszak Jr.
Dennis Waszak Jr.
Dennis is a pro football writer who covers the Jets and NFL