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New York Jets minicamp notes: Zach Wilson must avoid the ‘thunderbolt’

Underdog Jets, Minicamp, Zach Wilson, Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson
Underdog Jets, Minicamp, Zach Wilson, Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

NY Jets QB Zach Wilson impressed despite ‘thunderbolt’ occurrences

FLORHAM PARK, NJ—That’s right, ladies and gentlemen … New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson hit a specific height. The very first play of 11v11 at mandatory minicamp featured Wilson slicing the Sauce.

Tuesday’s team session began with the Jets’ sophomore quarterback beating rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner down the right sideline for a huge chunk near the sideline.

As of this very moment, there’s a decision to be made.

I can decide to spit out the kid’s statistical output, I could detail each completion to each weapon, and I could even rave about Wilson’s confidence over the course of the media availability at minicamp.

But that does not drive the actual football needle.

Forget stats.

Forget completions.

Forget any specific tweet coming from any specific beat writer who happens to be watching the Florham Park festivities live. (Oh yeah, and never overreact to any single piece of news or analysis regarding OTA, minicamp and training camp practice—not even from me.)

Just understand what’s really important: progress.

Nothing in the statistical column can compete with a quarterback accomplishing the goals set forth. We have no idea what Wilson and Mike LaFleur have put in place via a workmanlike progression.

It’s why stats and even highlight-reel reps in practice need to be taken with a grain of salt.

The only critical aspect at the quarterback position—this time of year—is watching the slinger make the correct reads while understanding what he’s watching unfold. And at New York Jets’ mandatory minicamp, Wilson made the correct reads while placing the ball in spots that showcase his improving ability to adjust to defensive leverage on the fly.

Wilson’s bomb to Moore to kick things off was not impressive simply due to the chunk and the rapid release; it was stunning due to the circumstances surrounding a sophomore quarterback seeking to navigate his way in the big-boy league.

Gardner bailed in a deeper zone. I cannot go into specifics here by way of play calls, routes and zones, but he also played an inside technique/shade in a zone that Wilson spotted from the jump. New York’s young quarterback then used the rookie’s leverage against him, as he led Elijah Moore to the sideline (a soft spot in that particular zone) while Sauce’s hips were turned to the inside.

Not bad.

On the very next play, Wilson then found Jeff Smith for a left-sideline bomb that should be thrown in the “gimme” category (perhaps a busted coverage).

This is the way Wilson’s day went—for the most part. The other piece to his showcase is what he, LaFleur, Rob Calabrese and the rest of the offensive coaching staff is attempting to fix.

The “thunderbolt.”

When Michael Corleone was forced to flee to Sicily in The Godfather, he found himself struck by the thunderbolt—a beautiful young lady he’d ultimately court and wed while still overseas.

Fortunately for Jets fans, Wilson won’t be heading to Italy anytime soon. Unfortunately for Jets fans, Wilson also deals with his own version of the thunderbolt.

At times, No. 2 finds himself struck with a bolt of overthinking lightning. It happens at the most mundane times when the easy play triggers a casual moment. The wide-open bunny oftentimes shakes Wilson’s mechanics to a point where everything breaks down, and this was still on display at mandatory minicamp and voluntary OTAs.

The good news is this: Wilson’s thunderbolt is happening slightly less this offseason as opposed to last. And other than the sometimes overthinking thunderbolt, Wilson spread the love at minicamp, hitting weapon after weapon in stride.

The kid looks more confident and in more command of the offense in the early going.

Oh yeah, and don’t worry too much about the rookie cornerback; he returned one to the house on Wilson later in the Tuesday session via red zone 7v7. In fact, consider Sauce Gardner as the only rookie who’s a decently safe bet to start from the jump (the way it should be, with rookies having to fully earn those spots).

Mekhi Becton returns

For the first time since early last season, the big man is back. Mekhi Becton walked out of the Atlantic Health Training Facility Tuesday with a powerful stride only the Louisville product can produce.

Becton even ran some lighthearted routes, as somebody (I’m not quite sure who) was a little off with the placement:

The big fella swears that he caught one of these, but I didn’t see anything resembling Lynn Swann-esque toe-tapping out there:

Either way, Becton is back, albeit he did not participate in teams or positionals. For the most part, he worked in the rehab area with the likes of Carl Lawson and others.

When taking the podium after Wednesday’s session, Becton donned a “Big Bust” t-shirt, something he’s using as fuel this coming season.

On the rise

This organization loves Jeff Smith. Although he surprised so many by making the 53-man roster last August (not Jets X-Factor), the kid could easily be considered the team’s No. 5 wideout at the moment.

Fellow wideout D.J. Montgomery is another kid on the rise. He’s in the tier-1 rotation of wide receivers, clearly ahead of Denzel Mims—the Baylor product who does look much better this offseason.

Rachad Wildgoose is a little-known cornerback who continues to make plays. Keep an eye out for the kid as the summer moves forward.

While rookie Garrett Wilson is loaded with talent, Braxton Berrios isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In spite of his smaller catch-radius, this guy is a hell of an offensive weapon. Remember, it was his infusion as the jet-motion man in this offense that coincided with Zach Wilson’s (and the offense’s) second-half surge.

A good problem at tight end

Another man on the rise is Lawrence Cager, the 2020 UDFA wide receiver who impressed onlookers two summers ago. After spending some time in Minnesota late last season, he’s now a tight end in New Jersey.

And guess what? The kid continues to make plays.

Cager is the perfect pass-situation tight end who presents matchup nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators. The tricky part is trying to fit him into this roster.

With C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Conklin and Jeremy Ruckert representing locks to make the squad, that leaves Kenny Yeboah (who has also turned heads as of late), Cager and two fullbacks, in Trevon Wesco and Nick Bawden. There’s simply no way the team will have the room to keep all seven players.

But hey, this moment is miles away from the tight end problem this team suffered through in 2021.

Meet the new 2i beef

For all intents and purposes, consider Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins as the new beef of Jeff Ulbrich’s defense. Foley Fatukasi’s (correct) absence—as he does not fit this gap-attacking 4-3 scheme—left a huge hole at the 2i-1-tech. Considering the fact that Joe Douglas did not replace that beef lost to Jacksonville, it’s becoming clearer by the day that Big Q and Rankins will assume that role.

This means Robert Saleh (and this defense) has fully embraced the lighter, quicker age of this NFL—and, in particular, in this specific scheme.

It also means that the Jets could be looking at John Franklin-Myers and Solomon Thomas as full-time 3-techs in this defense. When thinking about the sheer numbers on the defensive line, the EDGE players severely outnumber the interior defenders.

Underdog Jets Podcast, Wayne Chrebet Meet & Greet

Next up for the 2022 New York Jets will be training camp in late July.

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