Nearly a week removed from a tough showing at MetLife Stadium, the New York Jets’ developing franchise QB addressed his publicized struggles.
Observers of both the professional amateur status alike are abuzz about Zach Wilson’s unofficial MetLife Stadium debut. Alas, many disregard the fact it comes this Saturday against the New York Giants (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC), but instead turn to the prior weekend.
Unofficial accounts from East Rutherford had him earning an 11-of-24 completion rate for 112 yards and two interceptions last weekend. For example, it was enough for Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd, famous for asking for Jets AFC title game tickets when Adam Gase was hired, to liken him to Johnny Manziel.
Mind you, this wasn’t a reaction to Wilson’s Week 1 showing or even the upcoming Snoopy Bowl…this came in the aftermath of the Jets’ Green & White Scrimmage.
Wilson’s struggles in both East Rutherford and the Jets’ camp proceedings in Florham Park have been a national talking point over the last few weeks, causing some observers to prematurely prophesize him as a bust. With game day approaching, Wilson himself addressed his struggles after Wednesday’s practice on One Jets Drive.
In a statement perhaps best characterized by its uncanny pairing of bluntness and hope, Wilson declared that he would refuse to back down from a dangerous, if not lucrative, throw in practice if the only thing holding him back was the fear of making a mistake. It’s part of a process, a search for a philosophy that Wilson calls “aggressively smart”.
“I can’t be afraid to make mistakes, especially in practice. This isn’t a game; this is where I’m learning what I can get away with and what I can’t,” Wilson said on Wednesday, speaking about a pass nearly intercepted by C.J. Mosley, per quotes from the Jets. “As we get closer to game, you have to start teaching yourself, in that situation C.J. got his hand on it, he made the play and so it’s like next time in that situation and that same look, I’m going to check the ball down. That’s what we practice for is to play situations out like that.”
Unlike his critics, Wilson believes that practice performances can’t be judged by conventional box score stats. These sessions, particularly the preparation in training camp, are a time for everyone to experiment, including the defenses he’ll be facing.
He prefers to view the matters on a play-by-play basis.
“You can’t really grade stats or how many touchdowns or how many yards because every play is really what we’re grading,” Wilson remarked. “We’re grading how did we do on that one play. I think I’ve said this before, you don’t look at the whole practice and say, ‘How was practice today?’ It’s like, ‘How did I do on some of these plays and what plays can I get better at?’”
Even if Wilson wishes to dispose of the box score mindset when it comes to practice, he had a strong showing by conventional standards on Wednesday. Per Connor Hughes of The Athletic, Wilson was 10-of-18 with four touchdowns during team sessions.
Wilson knew right from the get-go that his status as a New York quarterback, especially one for the star-crossed Jets, was going to cast him in a permanent spotlight. The second overall choice in last spring’s draft believes his time elevating the mid-tier BYU program to the national spotlight helped prepare him for the challenges ahead.
It was reportedly nothing the Cougars’ program, storied as it may be, had to offer, but rather the typical history, burdens, and expectations forever associated with the quarterback spot.
“I think I really learned it at BYU just because the ups and downs of the journey that come with playing quarterback. I understand it’s part of the position and I think there are a lot more pros than there is cons.”
“It doesn’t really tell the story when other people are watching, they don’t understand how detailed and what my reads are, what I’m thinking, what a receiver is doing,” he continued, “They don’t understand any of that stuff and that’s why we keep our circle within us, and we do what we’re supposed to do as far as just learning what we’re supposed to be learning. (I’m) just ignoring the outside noise and listening to what my coaches say.”
One way to get the early critics off his his back, even if they’ll undoubtedly come no matter the result of Saturday’s game, would be a strong showing against the Jets’ MetLife Stadium roommates.
The annual metropolitan civil war and preseason has previously served as a stage for breakouts on both sides. Victor Cruz memorably broke out for three touchdowns in the 2010 edition (the unofficial first contest at East Rutherford’s new facility) while Wilson’s predecessor Sam Darnold temporarily showed the Giants what they were potentially missing with a strong showing eight seasons later.
As expected, Wilson is the first quarterback on the Jets’ depth chart entering Saturday’s action. Metropolitan bragging rights aren’t the utmost importance, especially in an exhibition game, and both the scrimmage and open training camps allowed him to get the culture shock of New York football with fans out of the way early.
Wilson instead views the game as an extended, higher octane practice sessions…only this time, he’s excited to see what a non-green defense throws at him.
“Right now, we don’t know what they’re going to give us because it’s a preseason game. So, it’s like how can we keep getting better ourselves?” Wilson said. “I’m excited, it’s going to be good to prepare, just to get back into a season. It’s crazy how fast it flies by from college to now, preparing with these guys. I feel like we’re learning a lot and we still got a lot of time to just keep learning. We’re learning now, we got a lot of learning this week and when we see these different opponents, it’s going to be great for us.”
Following the Giants’ “visit”, the Jets will go to Green Bay before wrapping the exhibition slate back at home against Philadelphia.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags