Composed Rookie Quarterback Zach Wilson Stands Tall in Jets Debut

Zach Wilson

Getty New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson during his preseason week one debut against the New York Giants on August 14, 2021.

It’s okay to exhale New York Jets fans. Rookie Zach Wilson’s first game is behind us and the number two overall pick looked the part of a franchise NFL quarterback.

The boxscore won’t flaunt any overly spectacular statistics — the BYU product led the offense for two possessions and went six of nine with 63 passing yards (7.0 per completion) and zero sacks or touchdowns — but the poise and composure displayed by Wilson proved that he belonged.

Not only that, the confidence and fluidity both inside the pocket and on the move gave fans a small taste of the signal-caller’s potential once Mike LaFleur decides to open up the playbook a bit more. Head coach Robert Saleh was impressed by the little things about Wilson’s performance.

“You just want him to get his feet wet,” Saleh told reporters after the game, “show that the game’s not too big for him which he obviously showed, especially in those third-down moments, he had a couple of critical third-down conversions that I thought was the epitome of playing quarterback in this league.”

Wilson explained how he was able to remain so calm during his first NFL experience against another team. He said: “We’ve been playing this game my whole life and so it’s just adapting to that, but you know I felt comfortable, I know the guys around us felt comfortable, I think our coaches prepared us for it and I think we felt good going out there.”

ALL the latest Jets news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Jets newsletter here!

Join Heavy on Jets!

Wilson & Offense Bounce Back, Silence Doubters

After the Green & White scrimmage, there was a much gloomier mood surrounding Wilson and this offense. Carl Lawson and this Jets’ pass rush had just finished taking it to the attacking unit in front of fans and question marks were swirling in multiple different areas.

The ripple effects of this solid outing by the rookie actually cleared up a bunch of those concerns in one fell swoop.

  • Is the Jets’ front four really that good or is the offensive line that bad?
  • Can this offense move the ball on the ground to set up the play-action pass?
  • What was with all the drops from receivers?
  • Is Wilson the real deal, or just another failed quarterback prospect for Gang Green?

Whether you’re an optimist or not, most of these questions probably at least entered your brain after the scrimmage. I know they entered mine. Thankfully, all it took was two possessions to put most of these narratives to rest.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the time of possession. The New York Giants didn’t play high-profile guys like Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay or Kadarius Toney, but they did have their first-team offensive line out there among others.

After an immediate three-and-out forced by the Jets defense — with a near interception for C.J. Mosley and a third-down sack from Bryce Huff — Wilson and this rushing attack went to work. 12 plays and over six minutes later, the Green & White had three points on the board.

The G-Men then punted following a three-minute and 50-second drive, which led to Wilson’s only other opportunity. Even though it came up short on a fourth and one where the Jets’ offensive line lost the battle, what I loved most about the rookie’s second possession was that it was almost identical to the first one.

Key link-ups with Corey Davis and Keelan Cole, a ground-and-pound approach behind Ty Johnson and Michael Carter, and a methodical Wilson pulling all the strings. Not only was the O-line much improved in pass protection, but it was also bullying the Giants on the run.

The double-meaning behind this revelation is that maybe the Jets front four really is this ferocious, and boy did they come to play on Saturday night with five sacks (one safety), four tackles for losses and 10 quarterback hits.

If the offense and defense can work in unison like this throughout the season, watch out.

Follow the Heavy On Jets Facebook page, where you can weigh in on all the latest NYJ-related daily content, analysis, features and more!

Clear Leader in Backup Quarterback Conversation

In terms of the backup QBs, Saleh told the media that he thought the competition was “good,” adding, “James [Morgan] made a couple of good throws in there, so did Mike [White].”

Personally, I witnessed something much different than the Jets’ HC. To me, White was the obvious choice for the number two role behind Wilson based on last night’s showing. The offense moved behind White, including an 11 play 68-yard touchdown drive that featured a lot of La’Mical Perine and Denzel Mims.

Once Morgan entered the game, the Jets’ offense seemed to die out. The 2020 fourth-rounder routinely missed open pass-catchers both in the flats and over the middle. One high pass forced an acrobatic catch from Austin Walter and a challenge from Saleh. It ended up being ruled a first down, but if not for Morgan’s inaccurate throw, it would have been an easy third-down conversion.

Gang Green mustered one long field goal attempt with Morgan under center and the offense was outscored 7-0 while he was on the field. If not for another stellar special teams play by Edmond Robinson (Vyncint Smith downed a punt at the one earlier) and a safety from rookie defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall, the game might have even slipped away late.

Josh Johnson is the third horse in this race, but the veteran has yet to play a snap as he continues to learn the playbook in practice.

At the end of the day, fans will just be pleased that Wilson made the most of his chances. Coach Saleh had previously cautioned fans after the scrimmage saying that things “will get worse before they get better” with a rookie quarterback. He also called those learning experiences “priceless” for Wilson.

There are still plenty more ups and downs to go, but after standing tall against the Giants, Wilson has removed any initial doubt that was clouding the minds of Jets fans.

Follow @obermuller_nyj and @BoyGreen25 on Twitter for all the latest New York Jets breaking news, rumors, fresh takes and more!

READ NEXT: Jets Could Reunite With Ex-QB After Impressive Preseason Debut