FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Zach is back.
Zach Wilson was cleared for contact and was back running the Jets’ starting offense on Wednesday for the first time since injuring his knee in an Aug. 12 preseason game. Barring a setback, Wilson will make his season debut Sunday when the Jets are in Pittsburgh.
“I’m just psyched to be back on the field,” Wilson said. “It’s the happiest I’ve been in a month.”
This was the game the Jets targeted when it was determined Wilson, who had knee surgery six weeks ago, would not be ready for start of the season.
Coach Robert Saleh said Monday that everything was trending in the right direction, but Wilson needed to be cleared by his doctors first. Saleh said Wilson’s knee is 100%.
“Everyone’s very comfortable with where he’s at physically,” Saleh said. “He’s ready to roll.”
Wilson suffered a bone bruise in his right knee and a torn meniscus after sustaining a non-contact injury in Philadelphia while scrambling for extra yards. Wilson had his knee scoped and his meniscus trimmed four days later by surgeon Neil ElAttrache in Los Angeles.
The Jets’ doctors and Wilson were cautious with the player who the organization believes will develop into a franchise quarterback.
Wilson said he’s “full go” and won’t play any differently because of what happened to him.
“I’m a hundred percent,” Wilson said. “I’m good to go.”
Joe Flacco started in Wilson’s absence and led the Jets to a 1-2 record. The Jets are not expecting Wilson, the No. 2 pick in the 2021 draft, to be their savior. They have a number of things that require fixing. They are expecting to see progress in Wilson in Year 2, though.
Wilson had a rough rookie year. He threw nine touchdowns passes and 11 interceptions in 13 games. He played far better after returning from a sprained right PCL that sidelined him for four games.
The Jets were encouraged by all the work Wilson put in during OTAs and the offseason. When he returned for training camp, Wilson looked more confident and comfortable in the offense before getting injured.
“It’s just a matter of him getting out there and getting some game-time experience and finding ways to get better every single day,” Saleh said. “He’s excited. We’re excited for him. But at the same time, it’s not about him. It’s about making sure we’re all doing our part to make sure we’re running an efficient offense.”
The past two weeks, Wilson has been doing individual work at practice, with his workload gradually ramping up. Wilson played 7-on-7 at the end of practice and has been moving well on his dropbacks and rollouts. This was Wilson’s first contact practice since Aug. 10.
“It was exciting to get back on the field and playing and calling plays and being in the huddle with the guys,” Wilson said. “I got to do better. I got to make some throws, whatever it is. I’m confident I’m going to keep learning and just getting back into the groove.”
Saleh said the last two weeks were important because Wilson was involved in all meetings and walk-throughs, got his work in and was able to test the knee.
“He’s very comfortable,” Saleh said. “He’s in a great mental state.”
Saleh repeatedly said no matter how Flacco was playing, the Jets would turn the offense over to Wilson when he was healthy enough to play. Saleh has said on more than one occasion that Wilson is “the future” of the organization.
The Jets need Wilson to develop since so much is riding on that. Saleh, who praised how Wilson “attacks” every day and all the work he puts in, said there is no substitute for game experience.
“You gain confidence by preparation and stepping on the football field and getting your opportunities to make plays and making things happen and creating a rapport with your receivers and your backs and your tight ends,” Saleh said. “You just love everything about him. There’s a lot of faith in him and being able to be 'The Guy.' Now it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.”