Zach Wilson looks lighter.
It is possible the quarterback has dropped a few pounds but it also may be just the weight of the Jets world being lifted off his shoulders.
“I’m having a ton of fun — more fun than I’ve had,” an upbeat Wilson said, “and I think that’s just the QB room, being with Aaron. I think it’s feeling like every single day there’s so much to, like, learn.”
Aaron, of course, is Aaron Rodgers, the man who took Wilson’s job as starting quarterback and now is the center of the entire Jets universe.
The Jets will go as Rodgers goes in 2023. That means for many Jets fans that Wilson is now an afterthought.
But, like it or not, Wilson is the second-most-important player on the team. The man with jersey No. 2 is also the No. 2 quarterback and with a 39-year-old quarterback, the Jets are likely going to need Wilson at some point. Rodgers already has dealt with a calf injury this spring.
The Jets may need Wilson out of the bullpen for a play, a series, a game or a stretch of games. That might cause panic with Jets fans, but Wilson has had a good spring after losing his job.
Aaron Rodgers speaks to the media before Jets practice on June 9. Noah K. Murray for the NY Post
Wilson seemed different on Friday in his session with the media. He seemed humbled. Wilson is no longer the face of the franchise, the man picked second overall to save the team. Poor play over his first two years has now relegated him to backup status.
“I can’t be bitter with the situation,” Wilson said of losing his job. “I didn’t perform well.”
You may remember this is the player who said the offense did not let down the defense after putting up three points in New England last November, helping Wilson lose his grip on the starting job.
Everyone has heaped praise on Wilson this spring. ’Tis the season for optimism and happy talk around the NFL, so everything should be taken with some perspective, but the Jets can’t say enough good things about how Wilson has handled his demotion.
“I give him a ton of credit because it’s hard to do what he’s been asked to do,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “To be the second-overall pick, to have two years of playing a lot of football, then being asked to take a back seat to allow another man, to watch and learn from another man. So, from a personal standpoint, it’s very humbling to be in his shoes right now, but at the same time, the way he’s attacked it, his demeanor, his personality, the attitude at which he’s done it, he’s been very positive through this whole thing.”
Wilson and Rodgers have a prior relationship and that has helped the two build a working relationship with the Jets.
The two spent time together in California back in January before it became clear they would be teammates. Wilson called Rodgers “the greatest quarterback of all time.”
“At first, you’re not always happy about that,” Wilson said of losing his job, “but I’m extremely psyched that out of any quarterback we could have brought in, it was him.”
Zach Wilson speaks to the media before Jets practice on June 9. Noah K. Murray for the NY Post
Rodgers has embraced the mentor role.
“I have a lot of love for him and even more respect for the way that he’s handled things and made me feel welcomed and important,” Rodgers said, “and also just been in my hip pocket learning — a ton of questions in the locker room, in the meeting room, after hours — but I love that because I feel like that’s a big part of my role here is to not just play at a super-high level for this team and help us win, but to make sure he’s ready when his time comes.”
The Jets hope that time does not come for a few years, but the NFL is a tough business for quarterbacks. There were 69 different starters at the position last season, an NFL record. The Chiefs would not have won the Super Bowl if Chad Henne was not able to manage the team in their playoff win while Patrick Mahomes was out. There is a good chance the Jets will need Wilson at some point this season.
“Of course, I wish things had gone differently the past two years and I would have played amazing,” Wilson said. “But I truly believe everything happens for a reason.”
Aaron Rodgers (l.) and Zach Wilson participate in drills during Jets practice on June 9.AP
Beyond an improved attitude, Saleh said Wilson’s footwork and accuracy have improved. He has looked good in OTA practices in shorts.
The early signs of spring have been good for Wilson. The Jets and their fans only can hope that the good vibes continue if he is called upon this fall.