EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — After three months of buildup, New York Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson made his debut Saturday night at MetLife Stadium. It was a dud.
In the annual Green & White practice before a crowd of nearly 20,000, Wilson, the No. 2 overall draft pick, threw two interceptions and led the starting offense to only three points in seven possessions.
Facing the first-team defense, the Jets’ presumptive starter completed 11 of 24 passes for 112 yards in the two-hour session. There was no live tackling, but it was a simulated game.
“The biggest learning jump for him was that it was under the lights, there was a bigger crowd,” coach Robert Saleh said. “It wasn’t necessarily a bigger moment, because you want them all to be the same, but I’m sure the young man wanted to do his absolute best. There are a lot of things he can take from this one, and it will be awesome to see him grow from it.”
Wilson wasn’t pleased, but he insisted it had nothing to do with nerves.
“Not great,” he said of his night. “I have high expectations for myself and this offense. I have to lead the guys and I have to make better decisions. That’s why this isn’t Game 1; that’s why we’re doing this. I understand that. Of course I’m going to be frustrated with myself, but I’m going back to the film room and find out what I can learn.”
Everything is a learning experience for Wilson, a former BYU star. After eight practices of having offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur next to him on the field, the Jets created a game-like situation by putting LaFleur in the booth. Instead of LaFleur, the voice in Wilson’s ear was quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese, who relayed the playcall from the sideline.
“There was no one to turn to for him to talk to,” Saleh said. “To have that experience, and to be able to go through it all, these moments are priceless for him. He had some good moments and, obviously, he had some rookie moments.”
The Jets have a new coaching staff, a new offensive system and a lot of new players, so there’s bound to be growing pains.
The Wilson-led offense generated only one first down in its first four possessions. On the fifth series, he was sacked by defensive end John Franklin-Myers and was intercepted by nickel back Javelin Guidry on the next play. Wilson misfired on a seam route to wide receiver Jamison Crowder.
The second-team offense was supposed to come in, based on the rotation, but Saleh stayed with Wilson. He responded with a 13-play drive that resulted in a field goal. His best throw was a tight-window completion to wide receiver Jeff Smith for 16 yards.
They concluded the practice with a two-minute drive. Wilson got to the opponents’ 37-yard line, but on a fourth-and-9, he tried to squeeze a pass into Crowder. It was deflected and intercepted by linebacker C.J. Mosley.
New York crowds can be tough, but there was no booing. The fans seemed supportive.
“It’s all part of the process,” Wilson said. “We’re all learning. I’ve got to make better some decisions, but I know I can learn from all those. This is the reason we do this sort of thing.”
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