TODAY'S PAPER
Good Evening
Good Evening
SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Jets coach Robert Saleh's words to Zach Wilson just what the No. 2 overall pick needed to hear

Robert Saleh watches from the sidelines during the

Robert Saleh watches from the sidelines during the first half of a game against at State Farm Stadium on October 31, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona.  Credit: Getty Images/Christian Petersen

They were among the first words Zach Wilson heard from Robert Saleh after it became official that Wilson indeed would become the Jets’ next quarterback.

And they may have been the most important for the baby-faced BYU star, who now has the weight of the Jets’ world on his 21-year-old shoulders.

"The biggest thing I want to tell you, remember this," the first-year coach told his first-year quarterback. "This organization is going to lift you. Not the other way around."

It was the perfect message for a young man who inherits the herculean task of trying to lift the Jets from the NFL’s underbelly into playoff contention. Saleh wanted Wilson to know that it will be up to those around the quarterback to deliver on the promise of the future, not the other way around.

Of course, we know that Wilson indeed will be counted on to carry this franchise. Whether it’s Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, this is a quarterback-driven league in which the best teams are almost always led by the best quarterbacks.

But credit Saleh for striking the right tone with a player he hopes to grow with in the coming years and whose performance will go a long way toward determining how long each man remains with the Jets. And whether this team finally has found the answer at quarterback after wandering in the post-Namath desert for nearly half a century.

The opening words resonated with Wilson, who flew to New Jersey on Friday morning after a whirlwind visit to Cleveland, where he attended the draft and enjoyed the obligatory bear hug with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell upon being introduced as the No. 2 overall pick.

"I think that’s what’s so cool and why I like Coach Saleh so much is he genuinely understands that football is such a team game," Wilson said Friday afternoon on a Zoom call from the team’s training facility. "There’s a 53-man roster and it takes every single piece to make this thing go round. One guy is not going to do it on his own."

That last part is technically true, because one man simply can’t do it all on his own. But NFL quarterbacks are asked to do more than any other athlete in any other sport, and if a team doesn’t have a player at that position who can elevate those around him, it doesn’t stand a chance.

Even if Saleh is trying to underscore his point with Wilson that he’ll get help.

"That’s what’s so special about this team is they’ve put together such a great plan," Wilson said. "I can rely on all the dudes around me. I can’t wait to get to know them and everything that they have. I know these guys have put in energy and time every single day, so I can’t wait to get with them. That’s what’s going to make it all work."

The Jets do, in fact, have a very good plan in place, and Wilson now becomes the central piece. It is unlike the situation Sam Darnold faced as a rookie in 2018, when the Jets were near the end of the Todd Bowles/Mike Maccagnan era and Darnold was caught in between regimes.

Today’s Jets are far more settled with Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas closely aligned and both at the beginning of a rebuild. It is the perfect time for Wilson, who joins a team that drafted a franchise left tackle last season and added a first-round guard in USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker on Thursday. Having a capable offensive line is central to any quarterback’s success, and Darnold never had that luxury. Wilson does.

He also has at least a competent set of receivers in Denzel Mims, who has the capacity to be a No. 1 receiver; newly acquired Corey Davis and reliable slot receiver Jamison Crowder. The Jets also added Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore, a speedy target who had 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns last year, with their second-round pick Friday.

Douglas’ acquisitions on defense, including free agents Carl Lawson, Sheldon Rankins, Vinny Curry and Jarrad Davis, provided an immediate upgrade.

It is not a complete roster with immediate playoff capabilities, but it is much further along than the team that finished 2-14 in 2020.

Now that they have their potential answer at quarterback, there’s legitimate reason for optimism. Even if Wilson knows there will be difficult times ahead.

"There’s bumps in the road," he said. "You’re going through adversity, that’s a learning experience."

There’s no getting around it, and there shouldn’t be any getting around it. Football is hard, and NFL football is the hardest there is. That’s why success is so well-earned if and when it comes.

That’s why Saleh’s words were so important. And that’s why Douglas offered his own piece of advice that will serve Wilson well in the years ahead.

"Just remember, have fun," Douglas told him. "This is still that same game you started playing when you were 7 years old. All you’ve got to do is be yourself. Nothing more, nothing less."

Words to live by as the journey begins.

New York Sports