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No pressure, kid: How Jets coach Robert Saleh's words put Zach Wilson at ease

New York Jets' Zach Wilson warms up before

New York Jets' Zach Wilson warms up before a preseason NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. Credit: AP/Matt Ludtke

Zach Wilson doesn’t want to join the list of Jets’ supposed saviors who never led the tortured franchise to great success. He wants to be one of many players who helped turn around the Jets.

That’s what made Robert Saleh’s message on draft night so meaningful to the 22-year-old quarterback.

"This organization is going to lift you, not the other way around," Saleh told Wilson over the phone.

Those words gave Wilson a sense of relief and belief that the right team drafted him.

"I was excited about that," Wilson told Newsday. "Just because you have your doubts of, ‘Am I just going to be the next insert of Sam [Darnold] leaving and then I come in and people just think the day is saved.

"That message that Saleh gave was you’re one of 53 guys. I think that’s so cool because it’s just like I can just do my job. I don’t have to worry about anything else. I just go in there and do what I know how to do best. I don’t need to press or do too much or think."

Make no mistake: the pressure is on Wilson. He knows it. Saleh knows it. But Wilson laughs when he’s asked if he feels it.

"Not at all," he said.

Wilson has a calm approach and excels at being in the moment. That should help him because intense scrutiny is coming.

The Jets picked Wilson second overall and handed him the keys to the franchise. Wilson is expected to be the quarterback who ends the Jets’ playoff drought — they haven't qualified since the 2010 season — and eventually takes them to the big game, which they haven’t been since Super Bowl III.

"No doubt I want to be that guy," Wilson said. "But it goes back to I don’t think I necessarily need to and it’s a team thing. It stems from Coach Saleh and the culture that he’s creating that it doesn’t have to be me that flips things around. I don’t have to have that mindset of I need to win this game, or I need to do this."

The Jets believe Wilson can be that guy or they wouldn’t have given up on Darnold three years after proclaiming him that guy.

They trust Wilson’s process, demeanor, decision making and overall talent. The Jets also are putting Wilson in a better position to succeed than they did with Darnold.

Wilson has more talented skill players, a better offensive line and the Jets are using a run-heavy system. All of this should afford the former BYU star more of a chance to develop and do what so many ex-Jets quarterbacks couldn’t. He’s already impressed his veteran teammates.

"He’s really grown," center Connor McGovern said. "He’s taken huge strides from OTAs to now and he looks like a real professional quarterback. I’m expecting big things."

Linebacker C.J. Mosley, said, "You haven’t heard his voice a lot but his play speaks so loudly … It’s exciting to watch, especially to see a rookie quarterback come in with the talent he has and put it to use Day 1 and keep growing and keep growing."

Wilson has been compared to Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes because he can make plays off-script and throw the football at all different arm angles. That was in college. Wilson has to prove he can do it in NFL.

He played well in the preseason: two touchdown passes, no interceptions and led four scoring drives in six series. Starting Week 1 at Carolina, Wilson will see first-team defenses for the first time.

Wilson spends so much time watching film and in meeting rooms that the Jets believe he will always be prepared and quickly correct any mistakes. They’re confident he can handle what he faces on and off the field.

"The way he’s built, the way he’s wired and the way he studies tape, the way he sits in the film room I can’t imagine him even knowing what Twitter is. I know he’s got all that stuff, but someone else must be running it," Saleh said of Wilson's social media accounts.

"He’s built the right way. He’s got the right mindset and we’re going to learn a lot about each other. We believe that he’s going to be fine. Now he’s got to go do it."

But Saleh, as he did on the draft night call, said it won’t be up to his young quarterback alone.

"Everybody pins everything on the quarterback," said Saleh, the former 49ers defensive coordinator. "[I wanted] to let him know it’s not his job to get us to the Super Bowl. It’s the organization’s job to lift the entire team up. Not just him, but the entire team up so we can get there one day."

WHEN YOU'RE A JET . . .

How Jets' quarterbacks fared during rookie season

JOE NAMATH

Record: 3-5-1

TDs: 18

INTs: 15

Completion %: 48.2

Yards: 2,220

RICHARD TODD

Record: 2-4

TDs: 3

INTs: 12

Completion %: 40.1

Yards: 870

MARK SANCHEZ

Record: 8-7

TDs: 12

INTs: 20

Completion %: 53.8

Yards: 2,444

GENO SMITH

Record: 8-8

TDs: 12

INTs: 21

Completion %: 55.8

Yards: 3,046

SAM DARNOLD

Record: 4-9

TDs: 17

INTs: 15

Completion %: 57.7

Yards: 2,865

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