New York Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett speaks on what he’s seen from Zach Wilson
Although Wilson’s Week 1 performance against the Buffalo Bills left a lot to be desired, there are many in the Jets organization who believe Wilson can make the best of this opportunity. One such person is offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
When speaking to the media on Thursday, Hackett didn’t hesitate to give the third-year quarterback his flowers.
“I’ll tell you, my respect for him [Wilson] is off the charts,” started Hackett. “For a guy to not have any practice, to come in there and execute the way that he did, it was great to see. It’s funny. I wish the world could have been in that locker room at halftime, to see how the entire team responded – especially the offense … I think Zach did a really good job and he kept his composure. That’s all you can ask.”
Hackett was pleased with Wilson, who played in relief of Rodgers after the 39-year-old left the game during his first offensive drive. Wilson would go on to put up 140 passing yards on a 66.7 completion percentage with one touchdown and one interception.
The former Denver Broncos head coach was asked if the team has to temper Wilson’s enthusiasm to stop him from making bad plays outside the pocket. Hackett’s response was insightful and showed that Rodgers’ mentorship has clearly made an impact on Wilson.
“There’s a fine line with that,” declared Hackett. “Whenever you have an athletic quarterback like that you want to take advantage of it, but you want to take advantage of it the right way. I think that’s part of his training right now. Understanding the rhythm and timing that we’ve been training since we’ve gotten here, and he’s put a ton of work in there. I think Aaron has been unbelievable. He’s coached him more than I have or Todd has, and I think he’s [Wilson] benefitted from that.”
Hackett was then asked if Wilson’s inexperience played a major factor in the play-calling and preparation for the Jets. While Hackett didn’t outright agree, he did acknowledge that each quarterback has their own strengths that the team wants to try and utilize to their advantage.
“Like I said, every quarterback is different,” explained Hackett. “I want Zach to be Zach … My job is to try and put them in the best position so that they’re successful. There’s things that Zach can do that are really exciting, so we want to take advantage of that.”
So far, that has yet to happen for Wilson in his career. Some of that may be due to a lack of confidence – something that was rumored to be inhibiting Wilson last season after a string of bad performances. This year, though, Hackett explains that the BYU product has expelled nothing but confidence going into his third year.
“I just know the Zach that I’ve been lucky enough to work with,” said Hackett. “He’s been incredible … The way that he’s handled this entire situation; all I see is confidence. All I see is an eagerness to learn and grow in the position. And we saw that [on Monday night]. He throws an interception and he comes right back and he’s able to make some plays. Those things are great to see.”
Despite the praise from Hackett, the Jets clearly went with a conservative gameplan once Wilson entered the game, even in spite of the fact they were trailing for most of his time under center. Wilson only threw five pass attempts that traveled at least 10 yards downfield.
When Hackett was asked if the Jets would open up the play-calling and be more aggressive against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2, the Jets OC was coy.
“We want to do what’s best to go against that defense. Whether it’s passing or whether it’s running, we want to be as balanced as we possibly can … I want every quarterback to be a quarterback. In the end, I want them to go out there with that ‘can’t stop me’ mentality.”
Wilson clearly has a “can’t stop me mentality”, but the Jets quarterback has given off an aura of doom among some fans. Hackett was asked if that feeling would resonate with Jets players, too, and if there’s any damage control that needs to be done if Wilson committed an error on the field.
“Again, that’s the past,” said an agitated Hackett. “This is the future. This is a guy that’s been training his butt off and learning the system and growing within it. I think everybody can say they’ve seen him grow … There’s going to be ups and downs with all quarterbacks, with all players – especially young players. There’s always going to be questions .. I just want him to feel more comfortable, and keep growing.”
When pressed further, Hackett put the icing on the cake, citing a specific third-down connection to WR Allen Lazard that was critical in the game.
“He understands the protection, he’s adjusted his footwork, getting the ball out earlier,” Hackett said. “In the beginning, it was all new and fresh. Now we’re in a more true West Coast-style and we’re seeing it become natural. That one to Lazard on the incut … that thing was absolutely breathtaking. The timing to get the ball out before the rush. Not that he’s growing from the past, just that he’s in a new system, gaining knowledge and understanding it.”
Regardless of the praise from Hackett, Wilson needs to prove that he is truly a different player than he was last year His first opportunity comes on a short week against Jerry Jones‘ Dallas Cowboys, who just annihilated the New York Giants by a score of 40-0 at MetLife Stadium in Week 1.