Last summer, Mike LaFleur was teaching introductory courses to rookie QB Zach Wilson and the offense. As Wilson and his teammates have graduated to intermediate work in LaFleur's second training camp, the question is how advanced will the Jets' class level be throughout the regular season.
"You're not teaching just from ground zero," LaFleur said. "These guys came in during OTAs and had a good idea of what this offense is supposed to be about. I thought we had a great OTAs, both in the classroom and on the field. And when they came back, the comfortability they have with this offense… I'm very pleased with how even the young guys how far along they are with the scheme and all that. We have a long way to go from an execution standpoint, but the knowledge of it is huge."
With knowledge comes power. During the first day of pads and on just the third team rep, Wilson drew an eager defender offside and then operated aggressively with the free play in his pocket. He rolled to his left and uncorked a 50+ yard pass in the air that was hauled in by WR Elijah Moore and finished for an 80-yard TD.
"He went on two, I didn't tell him to go on two," LaFleur said of Wilson's snap count. "He got the jump from an aggressive D-line. They let it play and he just scrambled out and did what Zach does."
More than a month out from the Jets' opener against the Baltimore Ravens, LaFleur has seen tangible progress from his athletic passer.
"I can see just how much faster he's going through his progressions, how much faster he's going through, taking off when something's not there, just how much more comfortable he is in this system," LaFleur said Monday. "It really shows in the meeting room, which obviously you guys don't see every single day, not just because he's answering all the right questions, his demeanor and calmness when we're talking about the offense and a specific play. I see it, but I don't think we'll all really know until we get out there for that first Sunday."
The Jets will rely on their beefed-up offensive line to set the tone. They'll have a lot of experience from left to center in tackle George Fant, G Laken Tomlinson and Connor McGovern plus the Jets like the upside of the young pairing of Alijah-Vera Tucker and Mekhi Becton at RG and RT.
"Up front, those guys have played a lot of football," LaFleur said. "I know Mekhi is still semi-young especially because he didn't play last year and AVT, but the other guys have played a lot of football. We're going to lean on them heavily and I expect them to do really, really good things."
Last season, then rookie Michael Carter paced the Jets with 639 yards and added 36 receptions out of the backfield. In addition to working in a group that will include impressive rookie Breece Hall, Carter will be counted on for his leadership.
"We're lucky to have him here," LaFleur said of Carter. "Like I said about the offensive line from a physicality standpoint and being out on the field, we're going to lead them. We're going to lean on Michael Carter to be a leader for us in all facts – not just for the running backs but every group. He's earned that right, the way he shows up every single day, the way he works, his attitude. I love that kid."
The Jets have a lot of skilled playmakers around Wilson. Moore, who led the team with 538 yards receiving last season and had 5 TDs in just 11 games, will benefit from familiarity in the system as he targets consistency.
"The expectation is for him to dominate every single time he's running a route and I know he has that mindset when he goes out there and he knows what he's doing like he does," LaFleur said. "I think good things are going to happen for him."
The Jets, who revamped their TE room this offseason, used their second of three first-round selections (No. 10 overall) on WR Garrett Wilson. After accounting for 23 TDs in 34 college games at Ohio State, Wilson has displayed big-time skills this summer. He's explosive and the former high school basketball standout can go up and get it.
"He's really loose, he's really loose in the lower half," LaFleur said. " A very unique trait that he possesses, he can get really far outside of his frame. I like to equate it like a basketball player crossing over, Kyrie Irving, how far they can get outside their frame and play on their insteps and still have body control."