Why Zach Wilson has Jets players & coaches' confidence despite early 2021 struggles

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Zach Wilson Treated with three different Zachs
Zach Wilson Treated with three different Zachs

There are times during the week when Robert Saleh will see his young quarterback still in the building late at night, watching more film at the end of another long day. So he’ll poke his head into the room and tell him “Dude, go home. Enough is enough.”

But it’s never enough for Zach Wilson, the Jets’ 22-year-old franchise quarterback. Not now. He knows there’s still so much for him to learn. And he knows he needs to improve.

“Obviously,” Wilson said last week, “my expectation for myself is to do better than this.”

There is no positive way to twist the numbers. It has just not been a good start for Wilson to his NFL career. Through five games he’s completed only 57.3 percent of his passes for 1,117 yards with only four touchdowns and nine interceptions. The Jets’ offense ranks 30th in the NFL. They are 1-4.

None of that is completely unexpected, as Saleh has been saying since the day Wilson was drafted. Rookie quarterbacks struggle. Developing them takes time and patience. There will come a point, as Saleh has said, where everything will click in for Wilson and everyone will suddenly see why the Jets made him the No. 2 overall pick.

The truth, though, is the Jets see some of it already – even the veterans in the locker room who surely had to be at least a little skeptical when training camp began. Wilson has dazzled them at times with the throws he’s able to make and the “off-schedule” plays he can create by escaping the pocket. He’s impressed them with his work ethic and his quick ability to become one of the leaders of the team.

But it’s more than that. They can also see that despite his early struggles, his confidence isn’t shaken. He isn’t rattled, even though at times it seems like the world around him is.

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) throws the ball in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons during an NFL International Series Game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) throws the ball in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons during an NFL International Series Game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

“(We see) the big things that everybody can see -- the off-schedule throws, the deep shots, being able to make throws off platform without necessarily textbook footwork, being able to make sidearm throws, off-one leg. Obviously everybody sees that,” said defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins. “But to be able to watch him closely, you see he’s a guy who’s unflappable. You see he’s a guy who doesn’t let mistakes and bad plays hinder his confidence. And that’s big.”

“Everybody believes in him,” added Jets center Connor McGovern. “When you see the throws he makes and the plays he is able to make, you know that he has the makings of a really special quarterback. The way he sees a defense, the way he handles checks and the more complicated pre-snap stuff is phenomenal. He’s a phenomenal arm talent.

“But the coolest thing about Zach is he doesn’t let anything affect his confidence. Nothing’s going to break that confidence.”

All that confidence hasn’t really amounted to much on the field, though. Wilson had his breakout performance in the second half and overtime of the Jets’ win over the Tennessee Titans when he completed 14-of-22 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns, but there haven’t been many more positives than that. He’s gotten off to terribly slow starts in every game, and even when he does put together a good drive, he doesn’t often follow it up with another.

It’s undoubtedly frustrated him at times, considering he lost one game and threw just three interceptions last season in his final year at BYU. Clearly, Wilson thought things would be going better by now. But he has always seemed to understand how difficult this was going to be.

“I believe I keep perspective on that,” Wilson said. “I understand that every single week is just a steppingstone for what we’re trying to get. I just need to keep learning and take some of the plays that I’m not happy with, or situations in games, with the right mindset and be able to keep learning from those and getting better each and every week.”

Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur insist they have seen improvement in Wilson, even if it’s not evident in the results. How they can get his progress to translate into actual production, though, makes for an interesting debate. Saleh has talked about getting Wilson to play “boring” football and has discussed “simplifying” the offense for him. He wants him to understand that he’ll get better by playing smart football, taking what’s there, rather than always looking for the big play.

But that’s not the kind of quarterback Wilson is, even if he knows that’s what he might need to be at the moment.

“Obviously, I’ve got a lot I’m learning every single week, and with that sometimes comes being a little bit robotic,” Wilson said. “I think sometimes that’s how those throws come out. I’m aiming them. I have to just throw it and rip it -- kind of how I do in the second half when we have some of those big plays down the field.”

Whether the Jets pull back on the reins or take them off completely will be up to Saleh and LaFleur. But whatever they decide to do, everyone in the Jets’ organization seems completely convinced that it would be long before they start seeing the real Wilson. They’ve seen enough of his abilities and attitude over the last five-and-a-half months to know it’s only a matter of time.

“He’s, for lack of a better term, looked at as a savior for this franchise,” Rankins said. “And he’s embraced everything thing that comes with that. And you can see every game, whether it’s something big or something little, he continues to get more and more comfortable with this offense, with the play speed, and everything that’s happening on the field. And I have the utmost confidence he’ll continue to lead this franchise in a great direction.”

“He’s going to get better,” Saleh added. “He’s got tremendous arm talent. He goes through things the right way. I know it can be frustrating sometimes when we’re looking at some of these things. It’s like, ‘God, he should be making these throws.’ It’s going to start clicking. Like I said: It’s a rollercoaster ride. You’re going to take the good with the good, the bad with the bad, but find ways to get better, and he will.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting