FLORHAM PARK, NJ — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. QB evaluation: Robert Saleh is a media-savvy coach who knows how to control the message, and that’s exactly what he tried to do with this comment about quarterback Zach Wilson: “He doesn’t need to be Tom Brady this year.”
It was an exaggerated way of saying it’s unfair to expect stardom in Year 2 even though he was the second pick in the 2021 draft.
Perhaps trying to contain outside expectations, which have grown amid a bountiful offseason, Saleh provided a reality check at the conclusion of the offseason. It also may have been a notice to Wilson, who too often tried to play hero ball as a rookie.
“People are forgetting that he’s got a young offensive supporting cast,” Saleh said as minicamp wrapped up. “His receivers are young, his backs are young, the O-line is just jelling together. He’s young.”
That led to the Brady quote.
“Now if ends up being [Brady]that’s awesome, but that’s not the expectation for him,” Saleh said. “The expectation is for him to continue to climb that mountain.”
Over four weeks of practice, Wilson delivered some Tom Brady, with a little Brady Quinn mixed in. In other words, his performances ranged from very good to choppy.
His decision-making, command and overall feel for the progression-based passing scheme are significantly better than last season, according to the coaching staff. He looks like a different quarterback than the rookie who was so overwhelmed at times that he wasn’t able to recognize his own mental mistakes. Now he doesn’t need the coaches to point out when he messes up; he knows it immediately. That shows a greater understanding of the position.
On the flip side, Wilson still misses too many routine throws. This was an issue last season, when his completion rates on throws behind the line of scrimmage (74%) and within 0-9 yards (62%) were the worst in the league, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Saleh called it a “rough” rookie year. The coaches believe those numbers will increase as Wilson improves his eye discipline, which is a fancy way of saying he needs to do a better job of getting his eyes in the right spot at the right time. That’s atop his to-do list. A quarterback can’t afford to miss that many lay-ups.
Don’t be alarmed. It’s only June, but Wilson’s consistency level should spike as the year progresses. No one expects a miracle turnaround, but he has to be better than a 56% passer, his overall completion mark.
“I really do have a lot of confidence in myself,” Wilson said. “Obviously, I think I can be one of the best. If anybody doesn’t say that, they’re not a true competitor.”
2. Unstoppable? The fans are excited about the team, and so are the players. Speaking of the receiving corps, Elijah Moore said “there’s no way teams should be able to guard all three of us.” He believes they have three potential WR1s, adding, “The way we’re going, the way we’re flowing, I just feel like it’s going to be unstoppable.”
You love the enthusiasm, but let’s tap the brakes. The receiving corps is very young. Corey Davis is a seasoned pro, but Moore (11 games) and Garrett Wilson (rookie) are developing players. The same could be said of the running backs, Michael Carter (14) and Breece Hall (rookie). Four of their top five backs/receivers are under 24. Ditto, the quarterback.
There will be growing pains.
3. Camp Wilson: In mid-July, Wilson and his receivers will gather at an undisclosed location for a couple of days of pitch-and-catch. It won’t be all work, no play. He said fun activities are planned.
4. Money position: The Jets are keeping their Mekhi Becton-George Fant plan close to the vest. Offensive-line coach John Benton said it doesn’t matter which one plays left tackle because the two tackle spots are interchangeable. Easy for him to say; the amount of his paycheck doesn’t depend on it.
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Fact is, there is a difference in the positions when it comes to salary. The five highest-paid left tackles average $21.3 million per year; the five highest-paid right tackles average $18 million, according to Over The Cap. So even though Becton said he’d be fine with a move to right tackle, you can bet he wants to stay put. He has two years left on his rookie contract, but his fifth-year option for 2024 must be decided by next May.
Fant, who has made it clear he prefers left tackle, is in the middle of contract talks for an extension. Maybe that explains the team’s secrecy. It would give him more leverage if he’s anointed the left tackle. It also could be a way to keep Becton motivated during the break for a looming left-tackle competition.
It would be a defeat for the front office if Becton goes to the right side. The Jets drafted him 11th overall in 2020, in part, because they viewed him as a potential franchise left tackle. That, in their eyes, was one of the factors that separated him from Tristan Wirfs, whom he envisioned as a right tackle or possible guard.
Wirfs, picked 13th overall, is a right tackle, all right — an All-Pro right tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
5. Becton turnaround 2.0? One last thought on Becton, who has six weeks to drop weight and get his body right for training camp: Yes, there’s frustration within the organization about his conditioning, but there’s also hope that he can rebound and reach his potential, the way he did at the University of Louisville.
After two lackluster seasons, Becton made a quantum leap when the Cardinals brought in a new coaching staff in 2019. That seemed to ignite his fire. While Saleh & Co. are beginning their second year, they’re kind of new for Becton, who played only one game for them in 2021.
Becton, planning to make haters “eat their words,” has already reached a pivotal stage in his young career.
6. Here comes Mims: Another highly scrutinized player in training camp will be wide receiver Denzel Mims. The feeling inside the building is that Mims, coming off a disappointing year, has turned the corner. The 2020 second-round pick is physically in a better place than a year ago, which bodes well for his chances of making the team.
Mims was drafted as a classic X receiver (split end) who, after the coaching change, was forced to learn all three receiver spots in a new scheme. It was an adjustment, and he struggled. Now he seems to be buying in. Unfortunately for him, it might be tough to get on the field because of the upgrades at the position.
7. Under-the-radar standouts: A handful of lesser-known players stood out in practice, including wide receiver Jeff Smith (one-handed TD catch in minicamp), tight ends Trevon Wesco and Lawrence Cager, fullback Nick Bawden, safety Jason Pinnock and cornerback Isaiah Dunn.
Keep in mind, there was no contact, no running game and no bump-and-run coverage (well, maybe a watered-down version). June stars can fade in August. Tight ends coach Ron Middleton said it best. Referring to Cager, a converted wideout who made a lot of catches, Middleton said: “When we get the plastic on (shoulder pads), that’s when you have to show you belong.”
8. Ravenous prep: When do NFL teams start preparing for their season opener? The Jets’ defensive coaches have already given their players a taste of the Baltimore Ravens, their Week 1 opponent.
The defense “faced” about 25-30 Baltimore running plays during walk-through periods in the course of the offseason, according to defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. The Ravens have a unique running game, with quarterback Lamar Jackson and a wide array of gap schemes. You can’t prepare for it in a few days, so the Jets got an early start.