The Jets have been active this offseason, bolstering their roster on both sides of the ball in free agency and the NFL Draft.
Even after making a slew of improvements, bringing in a mix of young talent and proven veterans, this Jets coaching staff understands that New York's success in 2022 still flows through their young quarterback.
If Zach Wilson can leap forward in his sophomore season, taking advantage of the weapons around him, there's a legitimate chance this team can contend this winter. The alternative, however, isn't pretty and will put this club in a difficult spot later this year.
Asked this offseason if he feels any stress to get Wilson into a better position to succeed heading into Year 2, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur agreed, but corrected the question from feeling pressure to feeling urgency.
"This league doesn’t care," LaFleur said in June. "If you don’t like pressure in this league, then you are in the wrong league. You better be able to just deal with that. The urgency to get it done the right way and in an urgent matter, we have to get better every single day starting right now. I know we play Baltimore Week One, I have no idea who we play Week Two and I don’t care. I really don’t care about Baltimore right now, I just care about our guys, our quarterback room, and our entire unit getting better right now."
LaFleur went on to speak about rookie wideout and first-round pick Garrett Wilson, reiterating that you don't need to wait until someone's second season for them to blossom into the best player they can be between the lines.
That same logic applies for Wilson. New York can't go back in time to revise his rookie year—all the interceptions early on along with the injuries and inconsistencies around him—but they can work their tails off to prepare him for this fall, fostering an environment for growth and success.
Part of that stems from Wilson's accuracy. Everyone knows about his arm talent and ability to make plays with his feet outside of the pocket. For a player that missed too many open receivers as a rookie, however, LaFleur wants Wilson to improve with his eyes this offseason.
"A lot of his issues were maybe trying to see too much as opposed to this offense has turned into pure progressions," LaFleur explained. "He’s an accurate quarterback and he has been his whole career. One of the biggest focuses was the eyes, getting your eyes in the right spot at the right time. That is a focus that we are going to continue through these last OTAs obviously and then throughout training camp to make sure that we are ready to roll in September."
Wilson had a 55.6 completion percentage over 14 games as a rookie. In college, across three seasons, the signal-caller completed 67.6 percent of his passes.
Head coach Robert Saleh added that with time, Wilson will be more comfortable with the ball in his hands. Understanding the offense better and trusting that familiarity can help the game slow down around him.
"Zach, his arm talent, his off-schedule platform throws that he’s well known for, his pure arm talent, everyone recognizes that. He’s a great young man, he’s very smart," Saleh explained. "We’re seeing it all, it’s just a matter of the game slowing down for him. When you get to this level, the amount of information that gets thrown at these quarterbacks is quite significant. He’s grinding through it, he’s doing a really nice job. He looks a lot better, the timing has been better and it’s just a matter of continuing to stack up great days and when we get into competition in training camp with other teams it will elevate a little bit more and then the regular season happens and it will be a whole new speed."
With a stronger offensive line, experienced additions at tight end, a talented wide receiver room and a new stud in the backfield, Wilson will have playmakers at his disposal with every snap. That in mind, he won't always need to fire deep balls or fit bullets into tight coverage all the time. He'll have opportunities to hit open receivers with quick routes and checkdowns when going through his progressions, letting them make plays with the ball in their hands.
"I would just say approaching every play like it’s just only that play that you have to focus on. For me, it’s how can I just go in there and make the best decision to put my team in the best position," Wilson told reporters when asked how he can take a step forward this offseason. "Really, that’s all that matters. How can I just do what the coaches are asking me and my time will come to do the off schedule stuff. It’s really playing within the offense is where I need to have the biggest leap, just my progressions, getting through them cleanly, getting the ball out of my hands, giving it to guys and let them go make plays."
It'll be an uphill battle for Wilson with no guarantees. The urgency to get Wilson ready at this time of year should pay off months from now when the quarterback is in the midst of a challenging schedule, though. He'll be better served to play well, combatting adversity and unforeseen obstacles that every team inevitably experiences each year.
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