Zach Wilson was the New York Jets’ starting quarterback from the moment he was drafted No. 2 overall.
Two seasons later, that appears to have been a blown play call.
Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur acknowledged Thursday that Wilson, who has struggled mightily and been benched twice this season, might have been better served being a backup to start his NFL career.
”In hindsight, it probably would’ve benefited just to sit back and learn a little bit and watch a veteran do it and just kind of grow in this league,” LaFleur said. ”Kind of in the backseat watching and getting better in practice and getting better through scout team, and all that.
”But again, that wasn’t the course that we went. And from here, we’ve got to pick it up, we’ve got to pick up the straps, and we’ve got to get back to work.”
It was a candid revelation by LaFleur, the first on the Jets staff to publicly acknowledge that.
LaFleur referred to Green Bay, where his brother Matt is the head coach, previously sat Aaron Rodgers behind Brett Favre, and more recently Jordan Love, a first-rounder in 2020, behind Rodgers.
”In 2023 now, I guess you can say, people don’t want to wait,” LaFleur said. ”They want the instant gratification of these rookies, these second-year guys to be superstars and understandably so. You get why – this is a highly competitive environment.”
After Wilson was drafted, the Jets had no proven veterans on the roster with whom he could compete. Mike White and second-year QB James Morgan were the only other options until New York signed journeyman vet Josh Johnson late in camp. Joe Flacco wasn’t acquired until late-October.
”If you think back to the preseason, I think everyone wanted to crown him after that first preseason, right?” LaFleur said. I don’t think any of us got too high or too low on the preseason, but he was playing pretty good football through that and we’re going to have to look back and see, not necessarily red flags, but what indicators were there that said he wasn’t ready.
”Again, hindsight’s 20-20. It really doesn’t matter. We’ve just got to learn from it and we will.”
On Wednesday, coach Robert Saleh reiterated the Jets ”have all the confidence in the world” in Wilson and are dedicated to helping him develop ”through hell or high water.”
The Jets, sitting at 7-9 and mired in a five-game losing streak, have had instability at the quarterback spot all season. Flacco started the first three games while Wilson recovered from a preseason knee injury. Wilson returned but was benched after six games to ”reset” himself physically and mentally, according to Saleh, and replaced by White.
Wilson came back for two games after White suffered broken ribs, but returned to the bench upon White’s return. Wilson will be inactive Sunday at Miami, likely ending a disappointing second season during which he threw six touchdown passes, had seven interceptions and a dismal 54.5 percent completion rate.
LaFleur has taken his share of criticism for not being able to develop Wilson as expected – and he shoulders that blame.
”Through two years, we haven’t done our job with him, right?” LaFleur said. ”I mean, any player at any position that isn’t producing to the level that they’re capable of, as a coach, you failed them and that’s how I’ve always looked at that.
”And there’s a two-way street with it. The players have to meet you in the middle with it, but you want all these guys to play at their absolute best and we all know that Zach, he hasn’t played at his absolute best. He’s shown spurts, he’s shown the talent.”
As for his own job security, LaFleur declined to speculate.
”My words don’t matter there, and I really mean that,” LaFleur said. ”I’m going to give everything I’ve got for these players and this organization. That’s all you can do. That’s all you ask your other assistants to do, and that’s all you ask from the players. If that’s not good enough, so be it.
”Again, you can walk through the building and walk out of the building with your head held high knowing you put in everything you can for these players.”
NOTES: White (ribs) was listed as limited at practice and didn’t do his usual media availability, making his status for the game at Miami uncertain. White was estimated as a full participant during the team’s walkthrough Wednesday. … LT Duane Brown (shoulder), RT George Fant (knee), OL LDT (knee), S Lamarcus Joyner (hip), CB Brandin Echols (quad) all sat out. … G Nate Herbig (calf) and S Jordan Whitehead (hamstring) were limited.
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