Here’s a rule of thumb for first-year Jets head coach Robert Saleh: It’s never a bad idea to be in the same category as Bill Belichick, Andy Reid and Mike Tomlin.
Saleh is “leaning towards” playing quarterback Zach Wilson, the starting offensive line and the majority of the starting defense for possibly as much as the first two quarters Friday against the Eagles. If Saleh sticks to the plan, after playing starters in the first two preseason games, the Jets will have maybe the fewest cobwebs of any NFL team leaving the preseason because so many others are completely discarding the three games.
“Half the league isn’t playing anyone, and the other half is playing [starters],” Saleh said. “And then there’s young coaches not playing anybody, but then the veteran coaches like Belichick, Tomlin and Andy Reid are playing their guys. It’s like, ‘Well, what’s right?’ It’ll be a great case study over the next five years to see how these play out.”
Belichick, Reid and Tomlin are three of the four winningest active head coaches and have eight Super Bowl victories combined.
The growing feeling around the NFL is joint practices — such as the Jets wrapped up Wednesday against the Eagles, after doing the same with the Packers last week — offer more valuable evaluation periods than preseason games. Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas discussed Tuesday how to handle the situation as more and more teams veer from playing starters extensively in just one preseason game.
“I’m sure eventually, with all of the performance staffs that are being implemented, there’s going to be a really cool formula on how to approach these three games in the preseason with the advent of science,” Saleh said. “We trust the way we’re going about things. We have a ridiculously young team, and they are growing and learning and all of these experiences are so important to them. They’ve gotten so much better from the first day of camp until now, and to pull off now I think we’d be doing them an injustice.”
A pair of rookies, G Alijah Vera-Tucker and WR Elijah Moore, both of whom have been slowed by injuries in camp, are not expected to play Friday. The Jets lost OT Conor McDermott and LB Jarrad Davis to injuries in preseason games.
“I still think injuries are part of luck,” Saleh said.
With injuries mounting for the Jets — including LT Mekhi Becton in the concussion protocol — it was breath-holding time when OG Greg Van Roten did not practice. Exhale.
“Veteran day off,” Saleh said. “First one of camp.”
Eagles CB Steven Nelson — a seven-year veteran — offered an endorsement for Wilson after two joint practices.
“He threw some nice balls, and it looked like he got on his progressions pretty well,” Nelson said. “I think he’s going to have a bright future.”
Just like he was in the spring, WR Braxton Berrios is back to being a favorite target, whether catching a touchdown pass in the red-zone period or making tight-window catches during 1-on-1 drills. WR Keelan Cole hung onto a tough catch when unexpectedly shouldered to the ground.
The Eagles’ first- and second-team offenses scored touchdowns during a competitive two-minute drill at the end of practice, on Jalen Hurts-to-DeVonta Smith and Joe Flacco-to-Jack Stoll connections. The Jets’ first- and second-teamers did not score, with Wilson’s one turn ending on a fourth-down sack.
Vera-Tucker was in full pads and participating in team drills during his second practice back from a pectoral injury. But the rookie first-round pick was rotating between the first- and second-team offenses as he ramps up.
Wilson was 8-for-15 in team periods, including 2-for-2 in the two-minute drill. He threw touchdown passes to Berrios and WR Jeff Smith during the red-zone period. He fumbled a quarterback-center exchange. A pass behind TE Tyler Kroft in triple coverage and a pass just out of Kroft’s reach in the end zone accounted for two incompletions.
CB Brandin Echols (hip) returned after injuring his hip Tuesday. RB La’Mical Perine is out with a foot injury.
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