Zach Wilson is far more prepared for the NFL today than a year ago and if life is fair, the football gods should credit him for his rookie year experiences with the New York Jets with elevated play when the call comes.
Wilson begins his off-season workouts with John Beck of 3DQB training this week in Southern California. The Jets hired Beck, a former BYU and NFL quarterback, to coach Wilson in person through the final months of the 2021 season following recovery from an in-season knee injury.
Wilson underwent the toughest, most demanding period of his quarterback life a year ago. Today, Beck expects his client to be far more prepared for his sophomore NFL season.
“The toughest part about being a rookie is not only making the adjustment from college but it’s how much work you have to go through to get ready for the NFL,” said Beck.
He describes what a first-year pro goes through as a physical, emotional and mental gauntlet in the weeks and months after he leaves his college nest.
Beck, drafted by Miami in the second round, also played for Baltimore and Washington before retiring after a short stint in the CFL.
.@MoveTheSticks of @nflnetwork said he was most impressed with Zach Wilson (@ZachWilson) not flinching when crap hit the fan + ‘get guys healthy, supplement talent w/ free agency, trades, #NFLDraft’ & I think you’ll see this kid ‘take off’: 🎥 @nyjets #Jets #TakeFlight #NFL pic.twitter.com/IQZZlJPhSF— Paul Andrew Esden Jr (@BoyGreen25) February 18, 2022
“After a college player turns pro, he dives into individual workouts for NFL teams and pre-draft training,” said Beck. “Once that ends, he goes to mini camps, then training camp, where he faces a completely different world of competition, system, plays, calls, teammates, coaches and then competes in a full season.
“It’s a grind. It’s the longest year they’re ever going to have as a professional.”
That is in Wilson’s rearview mirror.
This winter, Wilson joined other NFL veterans who were simply giving their bodies rest, enjoying diversions and re-energizing for the coming season.
“The past few months have been time away from football, giving his mind a break and feeling his body heal,” said Beck. “This week we get quarterbacks in from wherever they’ve scattered and Zach will be here before he reports to his own camp with the Jets in six weeks.”
Beck said Wilson will undergo a build-up process. “It’s going to be light to medium in the beginning with the amount and intensities of the throws. It’s similar to when somebody’s taken time off from golf. You just don’t suddenly play 18 without preparing, stretching, getting back to sound swing fundamentals to avoid bad habits — fine-tune the stroke.
“It’ll be the same thing with Zach. As he gets back to building himself preparing for his offseason, we’ll work on that stroke, work on his feet, and kind of systematically approach all of those things,” Beck continued. “Then, because he needs to be true to the Jets offense, we are going to build everything that that offense requires to what we do.”
Wilson’s rookie season was a mixed bag. He came out trying to make big plays and turned the ball over. Key teammates were injured and not available. He seemed to right the ship after a PCL injury and began to run the Jets offense while cutting down on interceptions.
Writing in Heavy.com, Paul A. Esden Jr. said critics of Wilson are forgetting what he went through with the Jets and how much support he didn’t have for his first year.
“Wilson didn’t have a lot of help around him. The offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur had never called plays before in his career. Gang Green was decimated offensively with injuries at every level. Plus throw in Wilson getting a PCL strain that knocked him out randomly for a month in the middle of the season, there is no wonder he struggled,” opined Esden.
Beck found himself front and center as a Jets coach after Wilson’s injury. He believes Wilson worked hard to turn his rookie season around and he is proud of how he did it.
“Obviously, when you become the starting quarterback for the Jets, there’re a lot of things that are going to be kind of learned on the fly,” said Beck. “And you make a lot of your rookie mistakes on game day in front of people. That’s just part of the process.
“I was super proud when he had the injury of how he approached it — always working to get better and preparing for when he got back on the field. I thought he did a great job of managing the things that were happening around the team because of either COVID, injuries or shuffling people around. There were a lot of moving parts. And that’s a lot for a young quarterback to handle.
“I feel he did a good job of keeping himself in a good mental space, understanding what approach to take for the game plan each week, and just trying to get better at staying within it,” said Beck.
Beck said the toughest thing for a competitor is to center your mind on doing your very best when things are exploding around you and not get down when there’s a bad outcome. “I was impressed with how much better he got at the end with that approach.”
The best thing for Wilson this fall is he knows the system he’s required to run. He understands the concepts, what coaches want and has a clear understanding of what’s expected. Fortunately, he isn’t learning a new system with different faces. Beck said that is a disaster for a QB trying to find his feet in the league. He speaks from firsthand experience.
“I feel he did a good job of keeping himself in a good mental space, understanding what approach to take for the game plan each week, and just trying to get better at staying within it.” — John Beck on Zach Wilson
Fox Sports and NFL Network sportscaster Peter Schrager, on Good Morning Football, picked Wilson as the returning rookie most likely to make a big step in the upcoming season.
“I thought Zach Wilson was just thrown into the fire, immediately without a real veteran quarterback behind him. It was the same summer that his quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp, unfortunately, passed away while they were working on a plan (of) how to work with Zach Wilson,” said Schrager.
Wilson came along at the end, said Schrager, gaining confidence and looking every bit the part. “Remember he went toe-to-toe in that Tampa Bay game against Tom Brady. He’s got a crazy arm, just a crazy arm.”
Wilson is healthy today. He’s refreshed. He isn’t running around like a hamster on a wheel. He just got a chance to take a deep breath and clear his head heading into his sessions with Beck.
And he is much wiser.
It should pay dividends for the Jets this coming campaign as they eye the draft and assemble more talent for the franchise.