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Jets Quarterback Zach Wilson Would Have Benefited From Watching A Vet Play, Milke LaFleur Says

Zach Wilson (Photo: Getty Images)

When the New York Jets selected quarterback Zach Wilson second in 2021, they handed him the starting job without competition. In hindsight, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur believes this was a misstep.

“In hindsight, it probably would’ve benefited [him] just to sit back and learn a little bit and watch a veteran and just kind of grow in this league — kind of in the backseat, watching,” LaFleur said Thursday. “Get better in practice, get better through the scout team and all that. But that wasn’t the course that we went.”

This marks the first public acknowledgment from within the organization that Wilson might have benefitted from a more gradual entry into a starting role.

His struggles over the past two seasons have emerged as a significant issue for the Jets (7-9), who are currently on a five-game losing streak and have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Wilson, who has been benched twice this season, will be a healthy scratch on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

LaFleur explained the decision to start Wilson from Day 1.

“If you think back to the preseason, I think everyone wanted to crown him after the first preseason, right?” he said. “I don’t think any of us got too high or too low on the preseason, but he was playing pretty good football through that.”

During the preseason, Wilson completed 75% of his passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions, albeit against non-starting defenses.

Despite this, the Jets were committed to starting him immediately. In fact, they never officially announced him as the starter because they believed it was understood.

“We’re going to have to look back and see what — not necessarily red flags, but what indicators were there that said he wasn’t ready,” LaFleur said. “Hindsight is 20/20. It really doesn’t matter. We just have to learn from it, and we will.”

Zach Wilson (Photo: NFL)

At that time, the only quarterbacks on the Jets’ roster were Wilson, Mike White, and James Morgan. White had no prior NFL experience, and Morgan was a rookie.

Later on, they added veteran quarterbacks, with Josh Johnson arriving late in training camp and Joe Flacco joining via midseason trade.

LaFleur, whose job security is in question, emphasized that quarterbacks often need time to develop. He cited Green Bay Packers backup Jordan Love, coached by his brother Matt LaFleur, as an example of a quarterback benefiting from sitting and learning.

Reflecting on his coaching of Wilson, LaFleur admitted shortcomings.

“In two years, yeah, we haven’t done our job with him, right?” he said. “Any player at any position that isn’t producing to the level they’re capable of, as a coach, we failed them.

“There’s a two-way street with it. The player has to meet us in the middle of it, but you want all these guys to play at their absolute best.

We all know Zach hasn’t played at his absolute best. He has shown spurts. He has shown the talent. Like [coach Robert] Saleh said yesterday, through hell or high water, we’re going to work with him.”

The Jets have struggled with Wilson and White at quarterback in recent games, scoring only four touchdowns in their last five outings. LaFleur accepted responsibility for these offensive struggles but expressed confidence in his ability to handle the pressures of coaching.

“You sign up for this at any level,” he said. “You understand this is a production-based business. I’m not going to run from that. I grew up in a family of football coaches.

My dad’s been fired, my brother’s been fired. Every coach is going to be fired at some point. It’s just the cycle. That’s what it is. It doesn’t keep me up at night or put me to sleep.”

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