FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
Garrett Wilson has appeared in only one preseason game, but coach Robert Saleh needs no additional proof that the NFL will not overwhelm the Jets’ rookie receiver. In fact, it took only one play.
On the Jets’ first pass attempt of the night in Friday’s preseason opener against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, Wilson ran a route near the right sideline, beat single coverage and awaited Zach Wilson’s pass. The ball floated over the receiver’s head, but Saleh saw all he needed to see from his reaction.
“He showed me in the first game already that this game is not too big for him,” Saleh said after Monday’s practice session. “He had that competitive spirit, he absolutely dominated.”
Even though the pass was incomplete, Saleh could tell from Wilson’s reaction that the attitude is there, accompanying the talent the Jets already knew about before taking him in the first round of the 2022 draft.
“Talking smack on the Philadelphia sidelines to let them know he absolutely dominated that one-on-one,” Saleh said. “I love it. He’s got the right mindset.”
Before you think Saleh is pronouncing this the beginning of a Hall of Fame career, he’s not. Nor am I. It’s foolish to project that kind of production for any first-year player, even if he comes to the team with high expectations off a superior run at Ohio State. The NFL is littered with stories of failed hopes and unfulfilled potential, so there’s no reason to predict eventual greatness for the 21-year-old receiver.
But there’s certainly nothing wrong with Saleh expressing confidence in a player he hopes will bring high-end speed to an offense that hasn’t had a reliable home run hitter at receiver since the days of Wesley Walker and Al Toon.
And what about Wilson himself? Well, there’s no shortage of self-assurance there, either. Yet he, too, knows it’s a process, and that success is neither guaranteed nor will it come instantaneously.
“I’m feeling very confident,” he said. “I just want to keep on stacking days and make sure I’m getting those reps and keep on getting on the same page with the quarterbacks. Every single [rep] is amplified, being a young dude. [On] every single one, I want to make a play.”
Wilson has made enough plays in camp to generate enthusiasm among the Jets’ players and coaches, although there have been a few drops, too. Those are reminders that there will be moments of disappointment, too, even if the overall outcome is successful.
And as Wilson’s reaction after his first target on Friday showed, as well as his brief skirmish in practice on Sunday against defensive lineman Nathan Shepherd.
“Emotions take over sometimes,” Wilson said. “That’s how I felt — 21 years old or 28, that’s how I felt.”
Garrett Wilson may be counted on even more now that Zach Wilson is out with a knee injury, so he’s trying to build chemistry with backups Joe Flacco, who would start in Wilson’s absence, and Mike White.
“I have an idea of what I can do for this team, and my job is to play my role to the best of my ability,” Wilson said.
Toward that end, he is trying to find the balance between being hypercompetitive about his craft and not getting too down on himself when he does make mistakes or drops passes.
“Still working on it,” he said. “Being a receiver, you never want the ball to hit the ground. You feel like you’ve let your quarterback down. I don’t want to get too down on myself, so it’s just finding that common ground and making it work.”
But at least Wilson can go about his craft with single-minded focus, thanks in part to his family’s support system. His father, Kenneth, made it clear in a video he made for Wilson before the draft. In it, he told Wilson not to worry about taking care of his family financially, just taking care of his career.
“Like my Pops said, I don’t have to worry about it, and I take his word for it,” Wilson said. “It’s really a blessing not to worry about any of that. Everyone has their own situation, and I’m really blessed to have the situation I have. After that video came out, I had some people say you’re blessed to have a Pops like that. I know, I know I am.”
For Wilson, it’s just about football. And for the Jets, it’s about hoping Wilson can fulfill the promise they see in him.