Zach Wilson of the New York Jets warms up prior...

Zach Wilson of the New York Jets warms up prior to a game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on Jan. 9. Credit: Getty Images/Bryan M. Bennett

Zach Wilson’s introduction to the NFL wasn’t an easy one — not by any stretch. He threw 11 interceptions in his first eight games, including a four-pick clunker against the Patriots in Week 2. He missed four games with a knee injury and, for a moment, even had people wondering if Mike White was a better option.

For much of the season, there was that one lingering question: If this is the Jets’ quarterback of the future, is that future bleak?

Stuff like that can shake anyone’s confidence, but for Wilson, who played the last five games without an interception and kept the Jets alive in close losses to the Buccaneers and Bills (at least through three quarters), it’s just part of a growing process he believes will make him a better player next season.

"I have 100% confidence in myself that I can play in this league and that I can play well and that I can help lead this team to do some special things, and that’s got to be the focus," he said Monday.

"I think that’s one area that can always improve, it’s just that leadership aspect. How can I bring guys along and how can I elevate the guys around me and show them how much I care about them, how much they care about me and as a unit, we can just be so connected in every way? That’s something I’m just going to keep working on this offseason is how can I just keep bringing everyone together and just be able to keep improving as a team."

His process will be manifold, he said. He’ll continue weight training — he doesn’t like how the muscle he put on in the preseason evaporated as the games ticked by, and he’s hoping to at least partially counteract that while he also strengthens the muscles around his knee.

He’ll take a little breather from football, as Robert Saleh suggested, but will keep his arm active. He’ll also be working with John Beck, the personal coach whom the Jets brought onto the payroll this year. And though they’re still figuring out the details, he plans to work out with his teammates in the offseason to help build team chemistry.

"I would say trusting the guys around you is huge," he said. "I think guys stepped up this year, and I’ve got to have that full trust to understand that they’ve got my back and I’ve always got theirs. I think that connection with the guys around you is huge. Guys battled all year, and I think the more I can rely on them, the better I can be."

But though the Jets have a long way to go, the truth is 2021 was always going to be about Wilson learning and maturing in his first year in the league. Next season will be the true test for both him and Saleh, and the last few games, including the improvement he showed after coming back from his knee injury on Nov. 28, point to optimism. The lack of interceptions was a reason for encouragement.

It was "the guys stepping up around me," Wilson said about the change. "The receivers did a good job of just coming down on some crucial catches. A lot of times, the ball isn’t even right there. I’ve got to be more accurate with it, but I think the guys did an awesome job of getting me out of certain situations.

"And I think just also putting the focus on that, as a team, as a unit, saying, ‘Hey, if we’re turning the ball over, we’re not going to win very many games.’

"And so that was a big emphasis for me — how can you get rid of the bonehead ones? There’s always going to be turnovers, there’s always going to be interceptions. How can you get rid of the ones that are just never, never supposed to happen?"

Wilson stopped short of saying a playoff berth is possible next year, but it’s clear he expects to make significant strides.

"I am really excited to say, you know what, these are the things I felt really comfortable with and these are the things I’ve really got to work on and improve on," he said. "And it’s what makes the game so exciting, when you get to work on something like that and then you get to try and apply it once you come back."

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