FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Rob Calabrese’s commitment to the Jets started at an early age and it’s only grown stronger.
Calabrese was considered for the Kentucky offensive coordinator position during the winter, but he wanted to continue to work with Zach Wilson as the Jets quarterback coach. Calabrese, the former East Islip star quarterback, followed his gut and remained with the Jets, hoping he can be a part of the turnaround for his favorite team growing up.
“Ultimately, I always wanted to leave my footprint on something,” Calabrese said Wednesday afternoon. “Just being from this area, growing up a Jets fan and being with Zach, I see the potential he has. What he went through last year. . . . I really wanted to get into Year 2 and see what we can do this year.”
Jets coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur hired Calabrese last year after he spent two seasons in a similar system in Denver as an offensive quality control coach.
It was Calabrese’s first time as an NFL position coach. He was a rookie, just like Wilson last year.
Calabrese, 32, became a sponge, soaking up as much information as possible. He learned from passing game coordinator Greg Knapp until his tragic passing last July following a bike accident. Matt Cavanaugh replaced Knapp and helped Calabrese as well.
In the second half of last season, Calabrese became the primary voice in Wilson’s ear. That will continue with Calabrese having more say. The Jets didn’t bring back Cavanaugh or offensive assistant John Beck, who is Wilson’s personal quarterback coach.
It will be LaFleur and Calabrese making sure the message for Wilson is concise and clear.
“Be all in on this process,” Calabrese said of the message. “Don’t look too far ahead on anything right now. Every single day you come to work to get better. There’s things that you need to work on from last year, moving forward to this year. It’s just a process. It’s a long season and we already got started.”
During OTAs, Wilson has impressed the Jets with how comfortable he is with the offense, how quickly he’s making decisions and his overall command of the huddle. Calabrese, like the rest of the organization, thinks Wilson can be a special player and the Jets’ fans have a reason to be excited.
“He’s a quarterback that can make any throw on the field,” Calabrese said. “He can extend plays with his feet. Now he’s going to come back and be able to play the quarterback position the right way. As a rookie that’s the thing you have to learn the hard way. You don’t have to make a play every single down. You just have to make the right decision.
“As Jets fans, you really want to see that, so we can be in games in the fourth quarter and let his talents take over when those times come.”
Calabrese speaks from the heart.
He grew up in the same town as former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason. Calabrese, who broke Esiason’s passing records at East Islip High School, said Boomer was the reason he became a Jets fan.
“Being from Boomer’s hometown, I had no choice,” Calabrese said. “That’s Boomer Esiason, he’s the Jets quarterback and I instantly fell in love with the Jets.”
Calabrese used to go to Hofstra with his family for Jets training camp. They went to some games in East Rutherford, New Jersey, but since “that drive could be brutal” they mostly watched the Jets on television.
Now Calabrese wants nothing more than for this team to be successful.
“I’m invested,” Calabrese said. “I’m all in. Everybody in the building is trying to attain one goal and that’s to win.”
Saleh said he’s seen growth in Calabrese as a coach and he believes he has the potential to be an NFL offensive coordinator. But Calabrese’s sole focus is developing Wilson and helping the Jets become a winner. He is committed to that.
“In my gut, I knew that I wanted to be here for the people in this building, the quarterbacks, Mike LaFleur, coach Saleh,” Calabrese said. “In my gut I knew this is what I wanted to do. I always wanted to leave my footprint on something and make something better than when I got here.”