Saturday night’s performance by rookie Jets quarterback Zach Wilson won’t even be a footnote in his career in the long run, but in the moment it was an encouraging start.
Wilson made his professional debut in the Jets’ first preseason game against the Giants at MetLife Stadium. Wilson did not do anything spectacular, but he also did not fall on his face in the 12-7 Jets win. Wilson showed poise and made good decisions, completing 6-of-9 passing for 63 yards in two series of action.
The No. 2-overall pick out of BYU looked more self-assured and confident than he did a week earlier at MetLife when the Jets held their Green & White scrimmage. He threw two interceptions in that glorified practice, and that created some angst among a segment of Jets fans who have been waiting for an answer at quarterback for most of the past four decades.
“We have so much confidence in the young man,” coach Robert Saleh said. “You want him to stack up as many good days as possible but there’s still youth. He’s still a rookie. There’s still a lot of things that he’s going to learn from. There’s still a lot of opportunities for him to grow.
“This young man’s potential is through the roof but it’s going to be a process.”
On Saturday, Wilson’s first drive was efficient. He completed two passes to Corey Davis for 18 yards on a 12-play, 52-yard drive that ended with a 30-yard field goal from Chris Naggar. His most impressive throw came on the next drive, a third-and-9 strike from his own 20 to Keelan Cole for 16 yards.
The biggest takeaway from Wilson’s night is the game did not look too big for him. He did not show any signs of nerves in his first game under the lights. He never looked like he was unsure of where to go with the ball or fazed by the Giants rush. It should be pointed out that the Giants played their backups on defense, so while Wilson passed this first test, it will get much tougher from here.
But Wilson looks like he is settling in.
“I think it’s getting more comfortable with everything,” Wilson said. “The offense is all installed at this point, to an extent. Now, it’s just repetition. It’s like, ‘How much can I keep working on the same exact plays,’ and now I’m getting every single different look in practice, and now coming out here it’s great for all of us. We’re starting to settle in.”
It was not just Wilson’s debut with the Jets. Saleh was also on the sideline for the first time as a head coach. Decisions in preseason do not come with the pressure or microscope that they do when the games count, so it is hard to evaluate anything Saleh did. He went for it on fourth-and-1 early in the second quarter, always a popular decision in the preseason, but Ty Johnson was stuffed on the run for a loss of a yard. Saleh also won a challenge in the third quarter.
The starting defense got off to a good start against a Giants offense that did not have starting quarterback Daniel Jones and other starting skill players, but did have starters on the offensive line. The Jets held the Giants to a three-and-out on their first series. Sheldon Rankins got nice pressure on quarterback Mike Glennon on second down and Bryce Huff sacked him on third down.
Though the focus was on Wilson when the starting offense was on the field, the running game was impressive. The starting offensive line, which was without left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, opened up some big holes. Johnson had 33 yards on nine carries. Rookie Michael Carter had 22 yards on seven carries. Tevin Coleman did not play in the game.
The Jets now move on to Green Bay after one more practice in Florham Park on Monday. They will have joint practices with the Packers on Wednesday and Thursday in Wisconsin before playing a preseason game next Saturday.
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