As the NFL celebrated "Back Together Saturday", the Jets closed July on a high note with a spirited fourth training camp practice. There was reason to celebrate on a beautiful Saturday in Florham Park as fans returned in droves to the first of the team's eight open practices. And they were delighted to see rookie QB Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall selection in last April's draft, throwing darts to multiple targets in a fine effort.
Head coach Robert Saleh said of Wilson: "He's going to have so many ebbs and flows, it's going to drive us all crazy, but it's all part of a process of getting better. He was chomping at the bit to get back out here and he'll chomp at the bit again to get out there tomorrow. I thought the receivers were running crisp routes and they were fighting for him to gain separation. It was a very good, competitive practice today."
The Jets offense struggled to find its rhythm Friday but that was to be expected since they had a heavy day of installation and Wilson had just arrived less than 24 hours earlier on a red-eye flight. The script was flipped Saturday as Wilson stepped up in the pocket and unleashed a spiral 50+ yards down the field and Elijah Moore was breaking free. For the second consecutive day, Moore hauled in a long-gainer from Wilson, but this pass was on the money. Never mind that DE John Franklin-Myers might have had a sack on the rep because Wilson saw it through. It was actually a strike to WR Corey Davis earlier that going Wilson going. The ball was thrown to the veteran wideout before Davis had broken to the sideline in front of CB Bless Austin and that anticipation is what will be needed during the regular season.
"That's one of the things that makes us excited about him," Saleh said of the talented signal-caller. "He is able to sit in the pocket and play quarterback and go through the progression 1, 2, 3, 4 and work through this system. But at the same time, there's a clock that has to go off in the sense of, 'Alright, Coach. You put me in a jam here. Save us.' That's where these elite quarterbacks are able to improve and make something out of nothing. But the discipline to not just look at his first read and just bail, because there are a lot of those out there, his ability to go through his progression and work off schedule is what we're excited about."
The schedule changed for Wilson when he was hurried to his right during another team period. He moved well laterally to buy time and then he ripped a spiral to Denzel Mims up the sideline. He also changed his arm angle on a WR screen to Jamison Crowder.
"That's one of the traits that's very unique about him. He's an improviser," Saleh said. "You have your runners, your scramblers and then your pocket passers. He's more of scrambler in the sense that he's looking to throw. He's trying to move. He can throw off his right, left, sidearm, whatever motion and platform you want to talk about. That's kind of what makes him unique. Even though the play and progression might be dead, he's able to improvise, receivers stay alive and he can make things happen after the first progression is over."
The ebbs and flows will continue for Wilson. But he's in this position because he's a playmaker and he made good with a large workload Saturday.
Green & White Faithful Bring the Energy
Rookie OL Alijah Vera-Tucker sprinted to the bleachers before practice, waved his arms frenetically and implored the Green & White faithful to get going. And the fans did just that as there was a buzz throughout the session that marked the first time in close to two years that people had an opportunity to watch a Jets practice in person.
LT Mekhi Becton, the team's 2020 first-round pick, said: "It was great," he said. "That was my first time playing in front of them. It was fun. They were energetic. They brought the juice."
After practice ended, head coach Saleh addressed the packed crowd at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.
"Just appreciate them coming out," he said. "It's fun. Just to have human interaction again, having fans listening, scream, boo and whatever else they were doing over there, it was awesome."
Defensive end Carl Lawson has had an outstanding start to camp while emerging star defensive tackle Quinnen Williams continues to work his way back from offseason foot surgery. The Jets are loaded in the middle with Williams, Sheldon Rankins, Folorunso Fatukasi and Nathan Shepherd among others. But the person who could fill that defensive end spot across from Lawson is a former fourth-round pick who is loaded with talent himself. John Franklin Myers gave RT Morgan Moses fits at times with his penetration in the offensive backfield. During one team period, No. 91 not only might have had a sack of Wilson, he may have also snuffed out an end-around and then added another a QB pressure. Franklin-Myers credited Moses the other day for his guidance.
"He's coaching me in team when I have to go up against him every play," he said. "To be around a situation like that, it's an honor because I get to learn from the offensive line and I get to learn from Sheldon Rankins, Carl Lawson, Vinny (Curry) when he gets back, Foley, Nate Shepherd, Tanzel Smart. I'm learning from some quality players and it gives me a good opportunity to get better each and every day."
See the Best Images from Saturday's Practice at Jets Training Camp with Fans
Rookie CB Jason Pinnock registered his first interception in camp, hauling down a ball that a high Mike White pass couldn't be corralled by Josh Malone. Pinnock was actually lying down when he came up with the takeaway. Saleh talked about the new techniques the corners are learning in this system. "With the DBs, the footwork is a lot different. We're much more on the line, press coverage, much more of an aggressive setup for these corners and there's a lot of things they have to learn. It all starts at the line of scrimmage with the patience and footwork. Guys like Bryce Hall, just using his length and his size to overpower receivers, we've had people in our system like Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, it wasn't like he was the fastest guy in the world, but his length, his strength and his football IQ is what helped him become the Hall of Famer that he is. So, they're progressing." … D.J. Montgomery is stacking days together out there. It's a crowded receiver room but Montgomery continues to pop as he was on the receiving end of a long TD from James Morgan. … Rookie Hamilcar Rashed Jr. will be one to watch when the pads come on and his effort Saturday included a would-be sack and a QB pressure. … Keelan Cole bobbled a rope from Wilson along the sideline but kept his concentration and corralled the ball despite heavy disruption from rookie CB Isaiah Dunn. Today's final word goes to Mekhi Becton, who said of Wilson's highlight-reel pass to Moore, "I loved it, I loved it. I was just thinking to myself, 'If we can give him time, and he can make those like that, we're going to win a lot of games.' "