Zach Wilson may be wearing out his Jets coaches — but in a good way
Former BYU star didn’t forget to pack his penchant for film preparation with him when he headed from Utah to New York. According to new coach, he is early to arrive and late to leave
He prepares for football like a special forces commander. He studies nuances, background, schemes, routes, defensive sets, coverages, formations, blitzes, attacks by defenders on blockers. He studies the grids that open and close within seconds of a snap, trying to understand why, the reasons for it all, and if it fails, what elements led to the failure. He studies to find out why some plays work and others do not. He looks for keys, giveaways of how a corner will cover, strengths and weaknesses of man cover, and tendencies of backers and safeties.
It takes more than hours; it takes a chunk of his extra time, often deep into the night.
In college, Wilson was often the first to arrive in the football offices and the last to leave. He doesn’t see it as work, it’s a game, like some kids get a rush from playing Halo, Call of Duty, Fortnite or Minecraft. He loves it.
Wilson calls or texts BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick almost daily. They both share a love of the game. Ditto for QB guru John Beck in Southern California, a former BYU quarterback with NFL experience with Miami, Baltimore and Washington. He describes to Roderick a New York Jets red-zone play. They break it down. To Beck, they’ve bonded. They are both football film junkies. As collegians, they couldn’t get enough of the late-night sessions.
Roderick warned the Jets staff about Wilson. “He will wear you out,” Roderick told them.
Last week New York Jets coach Robert Saleh contacted BYU coach Kalani Sitake and told him Wilson was a “total grinder,” that he was there early in the morning and late at night.
Roderick already knew that would be the case. Wilson had warned him.
Before the draft, Roderick told the Jets Wilson’s work ethic wouldn’t be an issue.
“I told him typically you’re worried about a young player getting burned out. I said he will burn you out because he has such a hunger and thirst for knowledge that he just won’t leave the building,” Roderick says. “He’s there all day every day watching so much film and he asks so many questions. From some of the feedback we’ve heard from them that is exactly what’s happening. He’s there early in the morning and stays till 8:30 at night.”
One would think this obsession off the field with studying came from Beck, who was known to do just that under then BYU coach Gary Crowton his freshman season. Crowton, former offensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears, got Beck to look at football through the eyes of how NFL quarterbacks prepare.
Beck, now with 3DQB as a throwing motion coach, claims no such influence, although he readily and often gives Wilson tips and advice from his own adventures in the league.
“Zach has been wired to be a film junkie and gym rat the entire time I’ve known him,” says Beck. “I’ve watched him improve and refine how he goes about it, but it was in him from day one.”
Beck has told Wilson every situation is so unique and different.
“I’ve tried to help him prepare to be the starter for a wide range of things that can possibly happen,” he says. “I’ve only seen what the New York media is like from the outside. Because I don’t know what it’s like on the inside. I tried to line him up with some guys that I played with who were also Jets starting quarterbacks.
“I felt like they could help him and talk to him through some of the things that only a Jets starting quarterback knows.”
Beck said one of the best pieces of advice Wilson got since the draft didn’t come from him at all, but from Saleh on draft night. It was something Wilson needed to hear upfront and early and he believes that will have a profound impact on his rookie year.
“He told Wilson they were going to lift him up, that he didn’t have to feel he had to lift up the Jets. That is exactly what Zach needed to hear.”
Beck said Wilson will face times in the future when he will want to remember those words.
“Because when you care a lot about succeeding,” says Beck, “when you’re willing to do so much to try to help your team win, it can be very easy to try too hard. Zach has been wired the entire time I’ve known him to have a willingness to sacrifice and dedicate himself in a way that most people are unable to do.
“It shows his passion for the game and his love of trying to be his best. It also means he’s ultra-competitive. But I also know that with all of those great qualities the quarterback position comes with, at the same time, that space where when things aren’t going great, when the situation isn’t ideal, when the chips are stacked against you and you know it, there will be a tendency to care too much and try too hard.
Zach has been wired the entire time I’ve known him to have a willingness to sacrifice and dedicate himself in a way that most people are unable to do.” — John Beck
“And in those moments you try to do everything you can to lift the team around you. To the outside people watching the game, they think that that’s what every great quarterback should do and if he doesn’t display that ability each week he is not starting NFL quarterback material,” Beck continues. “But that is not the reality of the position. And any quarterback who’s been in that position in the NFL knows that.
“The best thing that Zach can do when and if those types of situations come up is to just relax and play ball. Probably one of the most difficult things to do in tough situations is to have fun and enjoy playing the game.”
That’s sage wisdom from Beck, a player who faced a lot of hurdles in college and the NFL with unpredictable support, injuries, political battles and situations that were beyond his own control as a QB.
Summertime is a perfect time for Wilson to grind and forge a knowledge base of NFL play and the Jets’ offense and personnel. Reports out of training camp after 12 practice sessions show he is making headway to be a starter.
Saleh told ESPN, “Zach loves ball, that’s one thing I’ve learned. He’s unflappable in the sense he doesn’t care whether (it) went good or bad. He wants to know why it went well or bad. He wants to learn from it. He’s wired exactly the way you want all players to be wired. Now it’s a matter of getting as many reps as possible in training camp.”
Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said he has “thrown a ton” at Wilson already.
“I thought these last weeks have been awesome for him. We’ve done so many call-it periods where he doesn’t have the script. He just has to hear me through the walkie-talkie and make sure he calls it correctly and gets everyone aligned.”
Roderick’s back and forth with Wilson this summer includes a myriad of topics, but basically, it’s just gym rat football talk. On one occasion Wilson and Roderick went back to a play the Cougars ran this past season and Roderick wanted to break it down with Wilson, just go over it.
“He remembered what happened on that play better than I did,” says Roderick. “We had a play-action pass last year and I asked him if the action was that awkward for him, if we should keep it the same or change it to a different action and he gave me his feedback — it’s that kind of stuff we discuss all the time.”
Both the New York and Philadelphia media markets are known as some of the toughest in sports. Fans can be brutal and impatient as they are passionate and plugged in all the way.
Roderick sees Wilson’s experience as a BYU quarterback as kind of a training ground for that monster waiting to greet him when the season begins. Roderick said a BYU quarterback receives more scrutiny than about any in the country.
“I think playing quarterback at BYU is a high-pressure position and people that maybe aren’t super familiar with BYU might not know it,” he says. “There is a really high standard here. There are high expectations from our fans. Fans are pretty tough on a quarterback here and they were hard on him at times, and I feel like playing quarterback here is a really good test of your mettle, a test of your mental toughness and your maturity, and your ability to deal with success and disappointment.
“This is a place that people expect a lot out of the QB, and we have a really hardcore fan base that’s very active on social media. You’ve got to have thick skin to play here. I thought he handled the ups and downs of his career with a lot of class and a lot of professionalism.”