Zach Wilson’s New York Jets training camp debut reportedly went awry, but he’s not going to let one bad day disrupt an aura of hope.
You never forget your first day at a new job…though Zach Wilson reportedly might want to.
The second overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft made his New York Jets training camp debut on Friday afternoon. Observers noted that rust accumulated during a brief contract dispute…one that kept Wilson out of the first two summer sessions…was apparent.
Wilson apparently got off to a hot start. According to Connor Hughes of The Athletic, he found fellow rookie Elijah Moore on his first throw as a contracted member of the Jets, but things went downhill from there. Another toss went “directly” into the arms of safety Marcus Maye (per NorthJersey.com’s Andy Vazquez) and DJ Bien-Aime of the New York Daily News hinted that there could’ve been more.
“Zach Wilsonâ€™s first day back he has not been good,” Bien-Aime said. “(Errant) throws, a couple almost interceptions, an (actual) pick. (He’s) been hesitant.”
Wilson was obviously the center of attention after practice, as he was immediately questioned about the effect his brief holdout had on his debut. He arrived in New Jersey on Thursday, taking a red-eye flight from his home state of California. Despite missing the first couple of practices, Wilson isn’t going to use the idea of playing catch-up as an excuse.
“I wouldnâ€™t say Iâ€™m behind. Itâ€™s just my first live bullets again and itâ€™s just getting back into the mix. I know the plays and I know my assignments, I know whatâ€™s going on, and I just got to execute,” Wilson said, per notes from the Jets. “Thatâ€™s what practice is for. Every day is going to have something frustrating, and thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m out here. Iâ€™m just trying to learn every single day, how I can improve, and just knowing my plays better, and just the different looks our defense is throwing at us. Itâ€™s going to be a process.”
Friday marked Wilson’s first activities on 1 Jets Drive since June’s minicamp, where his performances earned mostly positive reviews. During the time off, Wilson went somewhat viral amongst Jets fans for mixing business with pleasure during a family vacation, watching film on his iPad and getting in throws on a golf course. He said he kept working with the tablet but that the virtual sessions were no substitute for actual reps.
Fortunately for Wilson, he said his teammates had his back and that there were no ill feelings toward his temporary absence. This early professional hurdle was new territory for Wilson, who mentioned that he based his life around “(playing) ball just to play ball because I love the game”. That part isn’t changing for the BYU alum anytime soon. Despite the $35 million windfall, Wilson clarified that “the fun part of it isnâ€™t the money, itâ€™s definitely playing football.
“Thereâ€™s a part of you that just wants to get it done. But you want to get it done the right way,” Wilson said of the negotiations. “Itâ€™s a rookie contract that youâ€™re going to have to play with for four years, and so, youâ€™ve got to handle the business side of it to where both sides of the party can agree. So, we just had to make sure we got that done.”
In his own availability, head coach Robert Saleh confirmed that there were no hard feelings between he and Wilson. He gleaned a positive from Wilson’s early struggles, noting that the defense “was moving around really well” on day three of installation. Saleh labeled Maye as “impressive” in the early days of training camp, especially after the franchise-tagged safety missed a majority of spring activities while working through negotiations of his own.
As for Wilson, Saleh said that Friday struggles were understandable, maybe even expected, due to facing a defense running on the momentum of three days of chemistry-building on his first day on the job. Moving forward, Saleh wants to see Wilson “find a way to get better every day”.
“I know sometimes we can get focused on results, but thereâ€™s a process and heâ€™s got a tremendous one,” Saleh said in further notes from the team. “(You) canâ€™t control certain things that happen play in and play out, but you can control your process and how you approach things day in and day out. Weâ€™re already getting a really good feel just going through the draft process and OTAs. Heâ€™s going to have the right process, heâ€™s going to get better.”
Wilson will play in front of his first New York crowd on Saturday, as the weekend session is the Jets’ first training camp practice open to the public since the summer of 2019.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags