The prologue to Zach Wilson’s New York Jets career ended this week, as the rookie reflected on his first minicamp experience.
The most anticipated and talked-about throws of post-social distancing life in the metropolitan were silenced on Wednesday. In Queens, Jacob deGrom’s outing for the New York Mets ended after three innings due to right shoulder soreness against the Chicago Cubs. An hour away in Florham Park, Zach Wilson tossed his last professionally sanctioned passes of the spring.
Fortunately for those who support the rhyming, star-crossed franchises, the respective pauses are only temporary. deGrom said he’s “pretty optimistic” that he’ll make his next start, while Wilson’s shutdown is only induced by the end of minicamp.
Thus ends Wilson’s first form of a different kind of spring training under a New York banner, as the New York Jets’ minicamp proceedings came to a close this week. Reviews for his performance over minicamp and organized team activities have been generally positive, as NJ.com’s Darryl Slater reported that returned Jets owner Woody Johnson claimed that Wilson “looks as advertised”. Further coaching reports from Brian Costello of the New York Post claim that Wilson has “has done a good job of minimizing mistakes” (passing game specialist Greg Knapp) and that the “last two weeks have been awesome for him” (offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur).
The end of the proceedings gave Wilson time to likewise reflect on his first experiences in green. While social media offers only extremists…every minicamp touchdown or interception is respectively seen as nirvana or armageddon…Wilson’s offered a grounded self-assessment.
“It’s hard to say exactly how you did. Personally, in my eyes, I feel I can improve every single day, I feel like I’m learning something every single day,” Wilson said in notes provided by the Jets. “Even on the good days, it’s still frustrating, and it’s just because it’s like a foreign language, every single day it’s the same plays but you’re getting different reps, different looks at it, different defensive coverages, whatever it is. One of our running backs (later revealed to be Michael Carter) said to me after practice today, ‘it’s hard to know sometimes if it was a good or a bad day.’ It’s really just because there are so many learning experiences, things that are good to learn from.”
In terms of what he feels has improved most over his debut weeks in a green helmet, Wilson said he’s been particularly pleased with the way his “timing” has progressed.
“The NFL game, understanding what holes you can throw things into, how quickly guys can break on things. Just the timing with your footwork,” Wilson said when asked where he thinks he has improved since the Jets made him the second overall pick in Cleveland. “I think that comes with understanding the offense. I look back in college, you’re running the same offense for three years, so you know it like the back of your hand. Out here, you’re always just a step slow at first. It’s just how fast can I get through my progressions to where I don’t even have to think about it, if something’s covered I instantly know how to move on.”
The Jets diligently prepared for the arrival of Wilson, who succeeds the Charlotte-bound Sam Darnold. Extra action has been taken to ensure that Wilson has a loaded arsenal upon his arrival, adding offensive weaponry of both the protective (Alijah Vera-Tucker, potentially Morgan Moses) and box score (Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Keelan Cole, Michael Carter, Tevin Coleman) variety.
Wilson has already a rapport with some of his new receivers, as he had special words for Moore, his fellow offensive rookie.
“When the guy’s not thinking, he is a great player. He’s got so much potential,” Wilson said of Moore, the Jets’ second-round pick out of Mississippi last April. “You throw a ball at his knees or above his head and he catches it so well and is able to transition up the field. It’s so natural for him, his ability to catch the ball and get up the field. (He’s a) very smooth player and he wants to be great. I spend a lot of time with him, he’s someone I want to be around because he wants to be great.”
Wilson has also appeared to have developed an early relationship with 2020 holdover Braxton Berrios, referring to the former New England Patriots as a “slippery player” and praising his route-running abilities. Berrios is second amongst returning Jets receivers in receptions, yardage, and touchdowns last season.
Wilson’s next throws in a Jet uniform will come in front of a crowd, as Tom Pelissero of NFL Network has reported that fans will be welcome back to view training camp practices later this summer. The pressure will be on to atone for decades of false passing prophets, to finally fill in the franchise quarterback void an aging Joe Namath opened after the 1976 season.
To that end, the preparation and journey toward his NFL debut don’t end simply because the practice fields at One Jets Drive will be closed. While there may be a trip off the green path or two…after all, the New York Islanders return to Nassau Coliseum tonight…Wilson left Florham Park with a promise that the de facto month-plus off that he’s going to abscond himself in film, and he’s not talking summer blockbusters.
Wilson’s reputation as a film hound was already somewhat known to the Jets’ coaching staff. LaFleur told NJ.com’s Joey Chandler that the quarterback’s obsession with tape reminded him of his brother Matt’s fixation at the helm of the Green Bay Packers, calling Wilson’s desire to do visual homework “unique”. But perhaps the most fascinating thing about is Wilson’s approach is that he views film sessions as his “time away from football”. Rather, he views it as a matter of preparation, a skill that can be built during relative downtime.
“I feel like that’s when you can rest your legs a little bit and hang out,” Wilson said. “I’m not saying I work extremely hard, there’s always someone working harder than you. I don’t love feeling unprepared, I don’t love feeling like I’m not ready for something. I love the always having something new feeling every day in practice.”
“You don’t know what defense they’re going to throw at you and there’s always something new to prepare for and get better at. I’m just going to make sure I’m doing everything I can to be ready once training camp comes around.”
What are your expectations for Wilson this season? Continue to the conversation with the writer on Twitter @GeoffJMags