GREEN BAY, Wis. — Zach Wilson is probably tired of seeing the Packers’ defense at this point.
In two joint practices between his Jets and Packers this week, the rookie quarterback was under siege. There is no tackling in practice, so “sacks” are in the eye of the beholder, but it looked like Wilson would have been sacked 12 times over the two practices, and he was pressured on many more instances.
The good news for Wilson is the Packers are not expected to play their starters in Saturday’s preseason matchup at Lambeau Field. Like last week against the Giants, the Jets will see backups lining up across from them.
But the larger issue is the expected pass protection for the rookie quarterback this season and whether that will be a concern. Some of the problem falls on the offensive line, but coaches this week sounded as if they would like to see Wilson getting rid of the ball quicker, too.
“In the NFL you literally have one hitch to get rid of the football, otherwise you’re going to get hit, that’s league wide,” head coach Robert Saleh said. “There’s always going to be traffic around his feet. You can have the best O-line in the league, you’re still going to have traffic in and around the quarterback. Zach’s got to learn to execute in the rhythm of the play, get the ball in and out of his hands as quickly as possible, because he can alleviate some of the pressure on the offensive line by being decisive and being quick with his decision making.”
One of the trickier aspects of evaluating Wilson in training camp has been the rigidity of practices. Wilson grabbed everyone’s attention at BYU last year for his ability to make plays “off schedule,” meaning some improvisation when plays broke down. That is not what training camp is about. Training camp is about executing plays the way the offensive coordinator draws them up.
With that in mind, Wilson has tried to stay in the pocket more and to master the offense, rather than rolling out of the pocket and making crazy throws or tucking the ball and running. Saleh said that will come in real games.
“Right now, it’s a matter of him really grasping the offense, but I think naturally, I bet you he’ll answer this the same way, he is deliberately trying to stay in the pocket to go through his reads,” Saleh said. “He feels the pocket, he knows what’s happening and he’s got good rhythm, he can do all that stuff. His ability to get out of the pocket, I think, will just be a natural transition. Again, he showed a couple [Wednesday] and I think as he gets more and more comfortable with the offense, he’ll start improvising.”
As Saleh suggested, Wilson said he has been trying to stay in the pocket and it is hard to simulate situations in which a quarterback has to run because there is no tackling in practice.
“I think that’s so tough because in practice when we’re not getting tackled, it’s like how do you know if you needed to escape or not and that’s what’s so tough,” Wilson said. “You need to kind of just pretend like the pockets good and I think, kind of like I said last week, once the bullets are live, I think you kind of just naturally understand when to get in and out of the pocket and escape. You’ll see messy fronts, guys breaking through or whatever and you kind of understand when to get out but right now it’s too hard to know when guys are up behind us, if we’re getting hit right there or if we got to go or if we should just stay there and throw the ball.”
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