FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Zach Wilson opened the team portion of practice with an impressive throw on the move, spinning away from the rush and hitting Elijah Moore in stride for a long touchdown.
It didn’t end well for Wilson or the starting offense, though.
The last two series of practice were three-and-outs in which Wilson completed no passes. His last throw was short of his target, rookie running back Breece Hall.
The Jets weren’t sounding any alarms, though, after the offense couldn’t move the ball Monday during the unscripted move-the-ball period.
“I felt the defense was on fire,” coach Robert Saleh said.
That’s one way of looking at it.
The Jets’ defense has appeared to be ahead of the offense through the first five days of practice. This was the first day in pads, and the starting defense was more spirited and fired up.
The next-to-last series started with safety Jordan Whitehead shooting the gap and hitting Michael Carter for a loss. It went nowhere from there. Wilson was under pressure the next two plays and “sacked” once. It was more of the same in the final series.
In between, though, Joe Flacco, who has looked very sharp in training camp, led a touchdown drive and threw a touchdown pass to Jeff Smith. Mike White also got the offense deep in the defense’s territory.
“I think it’s way too early to say anything,” Saleh said. “They’re not done installing the entire system. I love that we are operating with less mistakes than we were at the same point a year ago. It’s just a bunch of new faces trying to work together, but at the same time, I’m really pleased with where it’s at.”
Wilson is in his second season, and there are expectations that he will take a big jump from his rookie year.
His coaches and teammates have regularly talked about Wilson being a different player, stronger, more of a leader with a greater comfort level and understanding of the system. They believe it will lead to better decision-making, accuracy and overall results.
Saleh said he sees the difference and that eventually everyone will see how much Wilson has progressed from a year ago.
“From a practice standpoint, we are under a microscope for every little thing the quarterbacks do,” he said. “Some of it’s good and some of it’s bad. When we get to games and we get to scrimmages and the intrasquad practices and we get to the preseason games, I think people will see that he’s taken a step.
“Dissecting every play, play in and play out, especially in this market, it’s a very very difficult thing to live up to. At the same time, I think he’s taken those steps. I think he’s gotten a lot better. I think in due time people are really going to see it.”
Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur echoed Saleh’s sentiments.
LaFleur said he sees improvements in Wilson every day from how he’s answering questions during meetings to his confidence in what he’s seeing. LaFleur has been impressed with how much faster Wilson is going through his progressions and how quickly he’s getting out and running when a play breaks down.
He noted that Wilson got the defense to jump offsides, got away from the rush on the free play and made a gorgeous pass moving left to Moore in the middle of the field early in practice.
“He just scrambled out and did what Zach does,” LaFleur said.
LaFleur said the change will be evident and that when the offense stumbles, it’s not all on Wilson.
“I see it, but I don’t think we’ll all really know until we get out there for that first Sunday,” LaFleur said. “We had our first move-the-ball situations today- didn’t do so hot as on offense. Not particularly all his problems.
“I called a keeper right into a blitz one time. I put him in a bad situation, he dirted the ball. Who knows what he would have done last year in his first period as a rookie? I see improvements every single day. I know he can feel that, too.”