The (football) education of the Jets' rookie quarterback Zach Wilson is nearing the end of summer school.
First came OTAs, then minicamp, followed by training camp, the intrasquad scrimmage at MetLife stadium and a preseason game against the Giants early in the semester. Next came joint practices with the Green Bay Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles for a change of pace.
After Friday's game against the Eagles it all gets really real, real fast. And for the record, there are no final exams in summer school.
"I think the more defensive looks, the new disguises, the different techniques are good for me to see," Wilson told reporters on Wednesday, the last day of those joint workouts with the Eagles. "I get to see all the different looks and compare them to what Green Bay threw at us. All around, it's good for us as a team to have to adjust."
"This time is huge, it's honestly good for everyone no matter how long you've been playing. For a quarterback, especially me in college as a freshman seeing the same defense every day, then you get to the season and the teams are different. We have some joint practices, the preseason is slowing and it's preparing me for a real game. It gets me ready, shakes up the nerves and then you don't feel nervous going out there to play."
If anything, Wilson exudes youthful calmness and wide-eyed curiosity. Head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur have each remarked about Wilson's attraction to watching film long after his teammates have left the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. They said they've actually had to tell him to go home.
While some critics have questioned the value of these joint training sessions (especially in light of some of the injuries Jets players have sustained), Saleh makes no bones about his affinity for and need to throw his players curveballs and a variety of looks.
"From quarterback standpoint, we've had a productive camp," Saleh said. "We got to look at the defense of the Giants, which had some elements of [Bill] Belichick; the Green Bay defense with some [Vic] Fangio and now Philadelphia. Seeing four major defenses week-in, week-out has been productive in Zach's development. I think it's priceless. I love these intersquad practices."
So far in the preseason, Wilson has played error-free football in limited action, and after a solid outing against the Giants he bounced back with a strong game against the Packers -- completing 9-of-11 passes (4 to No. 1 WR Corey Davis) and tossed two TD passes (each to TE Tyler Kroft and each going for 18 yards). And while Wilson has been under control, he acknowledged that he's mostly been on script, but said that will not always be the case.
"I just adjust to the game, understanding when to take a risk and when not to, how to eliminate negative plays and keep up in a positive situation, especially on third down," he said. "How can I make things easier on third down?
"There's always going to be risk. What's important is understanding when to take risks. Turnovers are not good. But if you have zero turnovers and zero explosive plays, you're not winning many games. So you have to have balance as a quarterback, when it's OK to push down the field, or on third-and-long not giving up anything, throw a check down and live for the next series of downs."
He is eager to play more than a few first-half series. And though some teams plan to rest their starters in the third and final preseason game, Saleh said he needs to get his "ridiculously young team" as many reps as possible. Wilson is all in.
"I want to be out there, of course, and wish I could play the whole game," Wilson said. "I'm not worried about injuries. I just wish I could play more, get more experience, learn the tempo of the game. You get more comfortable as you keep playing."
Asked if he believes he was gifted the starter's job the evening of the NFL Draft this past April, Wilson said: "It helps as far as I can learn, to keep growing, to get better. But I can't have the mindset that I'm the guy. I can't be complacent, you have to keep competing and earn the job. The coaches want to win. They drafted me in that top 5 and that's what they took me for. If I'm not playing well, I won't be the starter. It's a matter of how can I keep getting better and not feel complacent."
Zach Wilson and the Jets are about to turn out the lights on summer school. Opening day, at Carolina on Sept. 12, is about two weeks away. The learning curve is about to get a lot steeper.
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