On Thursday, Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur gave his trademark rapid-fire answers to reporters' questions ahead of Sunday's regular-season opener at Carolina and was asked how he knows that his 22-year-old, baby-faced QB, Zach Wilson, is a rookie.
"By some of the music and movies we bring up that he has no idea what we're talking about," LaFleur said, commenting on the generational disconnect when it comes to popular culture. "I brought up 'Caddyshack' and he looks at you and he has no idea what you're talking about. You see the youthful innocence and get a chuckle. But just in his preparation and how he goes about his day, it's not rookie-like, but it is how you should act as a quarterback. He wants as much information as possible. It's about the process, about getting through a week. He asks some questions that are awesome questions.
"Zach is no different than when he got here in May. He's all ball all the time. His preparation for practice I would say is no different than preparing now. He's ultra-prepared and excited to go out there and compete. But he really enjoys the process and I haven't seen a change in his approach at all."
As for approach, LaFleur's location during the Jets' three preseason games caused more than a few raised eyebrows. In each game -- against the Giants, the Packers and the Eagles -- he opted to remain on the sideline instead of assuming a coordinator's normal perch high up in the press box.
What's the plan for Sunday against the Panthers?
"I guess we'll wait and see," he said. "Right now, I did three on the field. Up in the box or on the field? We'll have to figure out what's the most comfortable."
He then said: "I feel good down on the sideline, face to face with the quarterback and the rest of the offense. Unless [head coach Robert] Saleh wants me upstairs, I'll be downstairs."
As with any quarterback, but particularly one who will receive his baptism of fire in the NFL on Sunday, protection afforded by the offensive line is crucial. LaFleur said that he has been comfortable working with the seven or eight players in the mix. Ideally he'd like to settle on a regular five-man unit, but that has been a challenge recently. Second-year man Mekhi Becton has missed time recovering from a concussion. Rookie first-round pick Alijah Vera-Tucker did not take a snap in preseason games. Who will start at right tackle against the Panthers will be a choice between Morgan Moses and George Fant -- and Saleh has indicated it will be a game-time decision.
"Again, it's to be expected, you're in Year 1," LaFleur said. "We've been working on protection in OTAs, but there were no pads so they're kind of moving but not blocking the same way. It's a work in progress for five guys to be in sync. You teach it but the guys have to make it come to life. It's a process. We're going to be learning up front. It will take all year and go into next year. But this is a really cool group, working together and working hard. I'm excited to see what they do on Sunday.
"There's definitely concern because it's kind of been mix and match. You want your five guys to gel. Even though it hasn't been the same five, whoever is in is getting used to each other, you can feel it in practice. They have their work cut out for them and hopefully they're ready for the challenge."
Throughout OTAs, minicamp and training camp, the word has been that LaFleur plans to employ a running-back-by-committee approach with free-agent signing Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson, rookie Michael Carter and second-year man La'Mical Perrine. But all things being equal, LaFleur said the notion of an equal sharing of carriers is not entirely accurate.
"One thing I've learned is that if you've got a hot hand you keep him out there," he said. "What's cool about our backs is that they're a very, very talented group. Our plan could change if there's a hot hand. If they're getting it and producing they will stay out there,"