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Jets’ Robert Saleh looks forward to Zach Wilson’s return

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The Jets expect them to play meaningful games “all the way across”, and they believe Zach Wilson will be a key part of their improvement.

Despite a knee injury likely to cost him at least the first game of the regular season – if not more – Gang Green’s buyer believes the No. 2 pick in the 2021 draft is on an upward trajectory.

“Before the injury, he was way ahead of where he was a year ago,” coach Robert Saleh said on Thursday. “I know that first preseason game, people put a lot of stock into that series, which is justified, but that first preseason game isn’t even close to what he showed in OTAs and training camp and the way he communicates even now that he is not part of the practices, and he is alone in meetings.

“So [I’m] very excited that he will have the chance to return to the football field to show how far he has come. As for the development and the direction he is taking, we are excited about it and we are excited about his future.”

Jets coach Robert Saleh bumps into Zach Wilson during training camp.
Noah K. Murray-NY Post

Exactly when 23-year-old Wilson will return remains uncertain. He suffered a torn meniscus and a bone bruise in his right knee in the August 12 preseason opener against the Eagles, a game in which he threw an interception and was far from impressive. Wilson underwent arthroscopic surgery four days later and is still not exercising, although Saleh said on Wednesday he may not need two full weeks of training to return like he did last year after a sprained knee injury.

When asked about that on Thursday, Jets’ coach somewhat distanced himself from that statement, saying that’s a question better suited to team doctors.

“It has to do with the ‘return-to-play’ protocol that is assigned to the player once the injury is diagnosed and all that sort of thing,” Saleh said.

One positive for Wilson is that by the time he gets back, the offensive line has had a lot of time together to cheer. The group, which was rearranged after Mekhi Becton’s season-ending knee injury – 37-year-old left tackle Duane Brown was signed and George Fant was moved from side to side – struggled together in the only preseason game. Saleh is encouraged that the unit will be more cohesive by the time week 1 rolls around.

Zach Wilson
Zach Wilson
Noah K. Murray

“We have time to bring in the game representatives. We have team competitions, so it’s not just going against the cards, we’re also competing against each other, but we have to get going,” he said. “There’s a chance for us to catch up pretty quickly, and we’ve got about five, six practice sessions left.”

The Jets roster has been improved on paper. This year’s draft class seems loaded and the defense looks formidable up front, without the cornerback issues. But for the team to really take the next step, Wilson must recover from a rocky rookie season, and he’ll have to do so after missing crucial practice time.

“We talked about his return at the end of last year and the leap he has made,” said CEO Joe Douglas. “He had the same level of progression during OTAs, during training camp. … I’m sure he would like to have that first series back in the Philly game, but he got back into the rhythm and showed all those traits and the progression that he had made in that second heat, before the injury. We’ve seen tremendous progress with Zach.”

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