Several words and phrases pop up when you chew the pigskin with new Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur for a while.
"Obviously" is one staple, certainly not unique to any one coach in the NFL or any other league. "Stuff," as in "play-action-type stuff" or "all that kind of stuff," comes up a lot.
And then there's one little four-letter word that says a lot: "Work."
LaFleur, in his first extensive interview with Jets reporters after today's workout at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, went to "work" frequently. It came up when he was asked what impresses him about first-round QB Zach Wilson now that rookies and veterans are working together in Phase III of the voluntary offseason program.
"From the mental standpoint, how much he wants to learn, per day," LaFleur said. "He doesn't look like he gets tired of learning. If we only have two to three hours and that's all a quarterback's mind can process for the day, that's good, that's a full day's work in terms of knowledge of an offense.
"Zach feels like and we all feel like he can go a little bit longer with it, so it's pretty unique."
Then there's his description of head coach Robert Saleh, a roommate with LaFleur's brother Matt, now Green Bay's HC but then a graduate assistant with Saleh at Central Michigan, living in an apartment not far from Mike's parents' home.
"I've known Robert for a long time," LaFleur said. "I've always looked at him as a really close friend. But obviously getting to work with him in San Fran, that's when my respect for him as a worker ... he's very, very smart, but he's an incredible worker and he's really good with the players and he's truthful."
Then LaFleur went on a riff about how much Matt influenced him as the two grew up, even though Matt is 8 years older than his kid brother. And the word erupted again.
"I always saw what kind of worker Matt was, whether he was working as a high school football player, basketball, track, whatever it may be," he said. "Then the two years I had with him at Atlanta — there's no one I've ever been around that works as hard as he does. It's like there's 25 hours in the day for him, and at the same time he doesn't blink, he's never tired, either. I always say I wish I could work as hard as that, I don't know if I can. He's wired a little bit different. But its what I strive for."
We suspect Mike does more than just strive — he's Saleh's first NFL OC for a reason. We also suspect he's modest enough to let others play up his units' achievements, which came through in that above comparison and also in how he downplayed the wide-zone West Coast offense that he's teaching Wilson and the rest of the Jets offense. One reporter noted Saleh describing it as "the best offense in the world."
"I don't know if it's the best offense in the world," he shrugged. "I do think the people that I've learned from are some of the best in the world, for sure, just the detail and everything they know about this offense. But what's really separated this thing, and it doesn't really matter what offense you run, it comes down to those players.
"What's cool and unique about this offense is, yes, it's the West Coast system and we're trying to run the outside zone and do the play-action stuff off it, but we fit it to our players. And that's something I think I've learned from all the guys I've been around."
("Cool and unique": another LaFleurism.)
The Jets' new OC isn't just focused on the mental and educational aspects of the game, although those are very important especially at this section of the calendar. There's the part about fitting Wilson's new-age skillset into the old-fangled West Coast that dates to Bill Walsh's Eighties 49ers and earlier.
"The way he can move his arm all around, it's hard to teach that," LaFleur said. "There's not many guys that can do all the different things that he can do with his arm slot and how big that is in football. It's always been big but it's just kind of obviously been pointed out a little bit more, I feel like recently, with the [Pat] Mahomeses and the [Aaron] Rodgerses and stuff like that, guys that just do it at such a unique level, and that popped out right away. ... [Zach] has a unique way of going about it."
LaFleur has much more to learn about his players, some of whom he spoke about today — wideouts Corey Davis and Denzel Mims, his tight ends, his running backs, his offensive line, his other quarterbacks. For now, something he said about the RBs room would seem to apply to all the players and rooms he's fitting into his pretty darn good scheme as he helps guide them toward next month's full-squad minicamp, August training camp and Sept. 12 opening day at Carolina.
"It's been pretty cool to watch them," he said. "I've really enjoyed getting to work with those guys."
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