FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Zach Wilson will be active for the first time since he was benched earlier in the season, and will serve as the backup to starter Mike White on Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Jets head coach Robert Saleh announced the decision on Wednesday and on Thursday, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur was praising how he’s seen Wilson respond to the situation.
The former-second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft lost the starting role under center for Gang Green after appearing in seven games this season.
“He approached it in the right way like we talked about, his mindset is in the right place, he understood why this was needed and he made the most of it,” LaFleur said at the Jets practice facility. “He got to play in a pocket against one of the better defenses in football for a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday practice. Yes, it’s not live bullets, but that’s where you get better, that’s where you get to, again, reset your mind and just go play football and work on the lower half fundamentals that we talked about.
“Thought he’s done a good job with it, he’s attacked it, and that’s why we elevated him back to number two.”
LaFleur’s comments on Thursday appeared to echo a bit those of Saleh the day before. The Jets head coach said that the 23-year-old has handled his benching well, and has been working to improve his game ever since.
“Zach’s been doing a great job,” said head coach Robert Saleh. “He has been deliberate in his approach over the last three weeks. He’s been holding himself accountable with regards to how he wants to attack practice, how he’s been performing in practice going against our defense — which I think is a pretty good defense to go against — and working on all the different things we’ve been asking him to accomplish.”
Wilson’s play came back into focus after last week when the Jets had to turn to their third-string QB Joe Flacco twice last Sunday when Mike White had to leave the game twice. White was confident that he was good to go for this Sunday’s game with the Detroit Lions, but the pressure will be on their backup if White takes another heavy hit.
But LaFleur didn’t seem too concerned whether Wilson would be ready.
“I am (confident), because he has confidence in himself, the players have confidence in him, and we as coaches have confidence in him, so yeah, I am,” he said about Wilson.
The final straw that led to Wilson’s benching was his atrocious performance in Week 11 against the New England Patriots, when he completed just nine passes and led the team to a 10-3 loss.
Since then, he’s been inactive, and the team has seen the emergence of White as their No. 1 QB. A fifth-round selection of the 2018 NFL Draft to the Dallas Cowboys, White signed with the Jets’ practice squad in the 2019 offseason, and later made the official roster.
In the three games he’s appeared in so far, White has boasted a 62.02 % completion rate, while tossing 317.3 yards and a touchdown per game.
Beyond his on the field prowess, White has unified the locker room with his leadership skills and his physical toughness, which is something that Wilson has struggled to do in his two-year career.
It’s not clear what the Jets are planning to do about their quarterback situation when the pending offseason comes, and it may largely depend on how White plays down the stretch of the season.
While they have publicly said that they believe Wilson will be a crucial part of the Jets’ future, the team has been playing better without him, and it may become an increasingly unlikely prospect to bring him back into the fold as the long-term starter.
But, come Sunday, Wilson will at least be wearing football pads and a Jets uniform, albeit while relegated to the sidelines.