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Why Steve Young says he was wrong about Zach Wilson

‘He can’t play right now. He’s not learning, not getting better,’ the Hall of Famer says of the Jets’ second-year quarterback

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New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) reacts against the Jacksonville Jaguars during an NFL football game Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J.

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) reacts against the Jacksonville Jaguars during an NFL football game Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J.

Adam Hunger, Associated Press

After two weeks back on the field, Zach Wilson is returning to the bench for the New York Jets with fellow quarterback Mike White healthy enough to return to the starting lineup for the team’s pivotal game at the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday.

Wilson’s development, or lack of it, during his second NFL season has been a highly scrutinized topic in the past several weeks, as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft has struggled to establish consistency in his game.

Another former BYU quarterback, Hall of Famer Steve Young, even admitted he was wrong in his assessment of how Wilson should fight through his struggles.

A week ago, both Young and former Utah and NFL quarterback Alex Smith discussed their concerns with how the Jets coaches are developing Wilson during a “Monday Night Football” segment

Part of their argument then was the inconsistency of the Jets coaching staff to support their young QB while playing a game of “quarterback musical chairs.” The Jets’ QB shuffling has seen Wilson go from starting quarterback to third-string QB and inactive on game days earlier this season, only to turn back to him when White suffered a rib injury. 

“Spend the time with him, talk to him, communicate with him (and) support him,” Young said then.

A week later, and Young’s tune on Wilson has changed.

This comes after Wilson completed 9 of 18 passes for 92 yards and an interception and failed to get the Jets’ offense on track in a humbling 19-3 loss to Jacksonville. He was eventually replaced by Chris Streveler, a former CFL quarterback who was elevated from the practice squad.

“I have to take a dose of humility here,” Young said during an appearance Monday on “The Michael Kay Show”. “... I’ve made this argument before with Zach, that if he can go compete with (Patrick) Mahomes and (Josh) Allen and (Joe) Burrow, then we need to develop all the commodity things that he’s not doing very well, and the only way to do that is playing.  

“I was wrong. He can’t play right now. He’s not learning, not getting better.”

Young added that White, a former fifth-round pick out of Western Kentucky, appears to give the team, and its offense in particular, a lift when he plays.

“There’s a jolt of energy that Mike White has brought from the beginning that comes back into the room,” Young said.

“As we (have seen), that doesn’t necessarily solve everything, because (the Jets) still got beat by some very good teams. But football is an emotional game … you get emotionally up for a game to run into people, that it can make a huge difference. That’s the lift that Mike White has brought the last couple of months.”

What is wrong with Zach Wilson?

When asked how Wilson possibly bounces back from being benched a second time this season, Young said the 23-year-old Utah native is struggling with the simple things that an NFL quarterback is expected to do, and trying to play through the mistakes isn’t making it better for him.

“The things he’s got to be able to do that are rank and file, NFL quarterback stuff is not getting done,” Young said during the radio show. “I always say, play through it because you are going to get better. 

“... Zach needs to fix Zach — there’s something that is keeping him from doing what I call the commodity work of quarterbacking that has to get done.”

There is an emotional component to Wilson’s struggles, Young said. “The last game was rough for us to watch because looking into his eyes, I’m not sure Zach had the answer.”

Young, who played in the NFL for nearly two decades and won three Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers, also suggested it’s tough to trust Wilson more to make the easy plays vs. the tough ones. 

He used an example of Wilson converting a fourth-and-18 pass two weeks ago with under a minute to play against the Detroit Lions. That throw, which he made on the run after scrambling away from pass rushers, enabled New York to try a 58-yard field goal that would have tied the game, though it missed.

The counter from Young was that it’s almost easier to expect Wilson to make those more difficult plays than execute something as simple as a first-and-10 swing route.

“The odds that he is probably still able to do the hardest things on the field, yet can’t get better at the commodity work is about Zach,” Young said.

“The stuff you’ve got to play good quarterback in the league — you’ve got to manage the game and the throws you’ve got to make — are not getting done.”

What’s next for Zach Wilson and the Jets?

On Monday, Jets coach Robert Saleh said the team is handing the starting QB duties back over to White now that he is cleared for contact.

New York is currently 7-8 on the season and sits outside the playoff picture, though the Jets could still make the postseason, with games at Seattle and Miami remaining.

At one point, New York was 6-3 and appeared to be on track to snap its 11-year playoff drought history, though the Jets have gone just 1-5 in their past six games. Wilson and White have each started three of those games.

“I thought Mike had been doing a great job,” Saleh told reporters Monday, per the team’s website. “I thought he did a great job moving the offense, sustaining drives, getting first downs, much more efficient. The offense was running with some good efficiency. It’s a great opportunity for him, it’s a great opportunity for anybody any time you get the chance to step on the field. Really, he just needs to take it one day at a time and go from there.”

With White’s elevation back to being the starter, veteran Joe Flacco will move into the backup position for New York and Wilson will again be inactive.

Saleh again reiterated that the franchise hasn’t given up on developing Wilson.

“The plan for Zach hasn’t changed,” Saleh said. “I still think he has a future here, I still think he’s going to be a really good quarterback. He needs time to just kind of sit back and continue the development that we’re trying to re-kickstart after the New England game. We still have him in our future and in our plans.

“We’re going to do everything we can to develop him.”