Rising Zach Wilson expected to play in Jets’ preseason finale

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The Jets have spent the past month getting rookie quarterback Zach Wilson up to speed.

On Friday, he has one last outing before it counts. Wilson is expected to play some against the Eagles at MetLife Stadium in the Jets’ preseason finale. Head coach Robert Saleh did not say how much Wilson would play when he spoke to the media Wednesday, but said he was leaning toward having Wilson play in the game.

It would be Wilson’s last dress rehearsal before Sept. 12, when the Jets open the regular season at Carolina. It has been an interesting four weeks for Wilson. He had a few rough moments early, but has settled in and looks extremely comfortable after two preseason games and two joint practices with each of the Packers and Eagles.

“I feel like he’s had a very productive camp and that you look at our defense, you look at the Giants’ defense, you look at Green Bay’s defense,” Saleh said. “You know, the Giants have a little bit of the [Bill] Belichick stuff, you look at Green Bay with a little bit of the [Vic] Fangio stuff, you look at Philadelphia with a little bit of the Colts stuff and what they do. That’s four of the major defenses in football that he’s going to see week in and week out. So, for him to see all of that, has been very productive and mindful in terms of his development.”

Training camp wrapped up after Wednesday’s joint practice with the Eagles. After Friday’s game, the Jets’ attention will turn to cutting the roster down to 53 and then preparation for the Panthers.

Zach Wilson
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The Jets have plenty of questions they are still seeking answers to with the season fast approaching. Will the offensive line be able to keep Wilson protected? Can the defense bounce back after losing Carl Lawson and Jarrad Davis to injury? Are the young cornerbacks going to crumble?

But this summer and this season are more about Wilson and his development than anything else. To that end, the Jets tailored their practices toward testing him and making sure he and the offense found a rhythm. Instead of the normal amount of 7-on-7 periods, when there are no offensive or defensive lines, the Jets did more 11-on-11 so Wilson could feel the pass rush. Saleh feels that has helped not just Wilson, but the entire offense.

“For us, when you’re looking at 7-on-7, even 1-on-1s, they run routes that take forever,” Saleh told The Post this week. “In 7-on-7, the quarterback is going to hitch a little longer because there’s no pressure. You lose touch with the timing of the play because you don’t feel pressure. Having that rush and helping him understand, ‘Hey, bud, you’ve got one hitch. The second hitch is on you.’ For him to feel that timing, I think has been very helpful.”

Saleh believes quarterbacks must get rid of the ball after one hitch. On defense, he preaches to his secondary to make the quarterback hold the ball for that extra second to allow the pass rush to get to him. Wilson did not see much pressure last year at BYU. He played behind a veteran offensive line and against inferior competition, mostly. The Jets wanted him to feel the rush in camp, even if defenders could not hit him, and get used to delivering the ball on time.

“He’s getting rid of the ball in rhythm,” Saleh said. “You’re seeing someone who’s not getting hit. Not to say he won’t get hit during a game, but it’s all-encompassing in terms of the urgency even for our route runners. You can’t spend time at the line or scrimmage. You have to release, you’ve got to work an edge, you’ve got to get vertical, you’ve got to get separation, all in an effort to help the quarterback. It’s not just helping the quarterback. It’s helping the receivers. It’s helping the O line. It’s helping the play-caller understand everything with regard to quarterback play and making sure that he’s constantly operating in rhythm.”

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