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During the offseason, Robert Saleh said he was looking forward to the challenge of dealing with adversity. Since making those comments, it seems he’s faced little else. The latest test comes as the Jets now find themselves facing a few games without their rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, who suffered a knee injury in their loss to New England.
For the Jets, developing Wilson has arguably been their main priority this season – perhaps even more so than winning games or being competitive on a week-to-week basis. However, over the next few weeks, they’ll need to alter their thinking.
The overriding goal for this team is continual improvement and working towards becoming a contender in the long run. The coaching staff will therefore still strive to put a competitive offense on the field in the games Wilson misses.
Mike White made his NFL debut as Wilson’s replacement in Sunday’s game and figures to start in his absence. So, what can we learn from his performance in terms of what he’ll bring to the table?
With the obvious caveat that he was thrown into the deep end without any preparation and could find things much easier after a week of practice with the first unit, White ended up with 201 yards and a touchdown on 20-for-32 passing. While much of this was on short, underneath completions, including several to his running backs, he did manage to complete a few downfield passes.
He also threw two bad interceptions – one on an overthrow down the middle and the other on a play where he stared down his receiver and allowed the cornerback to jump the route. These are the kind of mistakes the Jets will be keen on him to try and avoid. However, he’ll have to throw downfield to keep the defense honest – otherwise the Jets could face a repeat of the Luke Falk debacle where the team seemed scared to pass beyond the line of scrimmage with Sam Darnold injured.
What White did well was get the ball out of his hands and take the easy passes that the defense was giving him. Wilson can perhaps learn from this, as White generated some production and moved the chains by making those “lay-ups” that Wilson has been missing.
Throwing downfield was more of an adventure though. Where Wilson has sometimes thrown the ball late or out of the receiver’s reach because he wasn’t anticipating them getting open, White seemed to have the opposite problem as he often threw the ball to receivers who were tightly covered. The Jets do have some talent in their receiving group, though, so some of these passes can still be successful if they can come down with contested catches. It’s playing with fire to an extent though and the Jets will hope that he can make better reads with more in-depth preparation.
If White falters, the Jets could instead turn to veteran Josh Johnson, who has been retained on the practice squad. Johnson is a player who has been thrown into emergency quarterbacking assignments at short notice a number of times in the past and impressed teammates with his leadership and resiliency in some tough spots. He’s only won one start in his career and his numbers aren’t great, but they’re mainly a product of the teams he’s found himself on and Johnson has insisted he’s a much better quarterback than the last time he got a real opportunity at this level.
While he was usually employed as a dual-threat game manager type in his NFL relief duties, Johnson spent time in the XFL where he was allowed to air it out a lot more and impressed with his accuracy down the field. He also looked confident and competent during preseason action with the Jets and knows the system having spent time with Saleh and the 49ers last year. The Jets hope to develop White into a backup they can rely on down the road, but Johnson gives them another short-term option as well.
In his rookie season, Darnold suffered a minor injury which kept him out for a similar period of time. Journeyman Josh McCown held down the fort, but Darnold reclaimed his job when he was healthy again and enjoyed perhaps the most consistent month of his career once he was back in the lineup.
Clearly Darnold learned a few things about how to operate the offense consistently from the veteran and maybe also benefited from a chance to sit back and watch, rather than having too much on his plate while the team sought to fast-track him to becoming the franchise quarterback. Wilson now faces the same situation and could ultimately benefit in a similar fashion.