Tests for Jets' Zach Wilson: Mastering offense and 'aggressive' drivers

Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson joins some of his Jets teammates at the Stanley Cup playoff game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. Brad Penner/USA Today Sports

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rookie quarterbacks always say the biggest adjustment to the NFL is the speed of the game. New York Jets top pick Zach Wilson is learning that life is fast on and off the field.

Honk! Honk!

"There's definitely some aggressive drivers here, that's for sure," Wilson said Thursday after practice. "I'm getting used to that, getting cut off everywhere you go."

Welcome to New Jersey, kid. You're not in Utah anymore.

Born, raised and schooled in Utah, the former BYU star is getting a crash course (pardon the wording) in New York/New Jersey culture. The Jets' facility is located in suburbia, 30 miles west of Manhattan, but the roads and highways get wild here, too.

Undaunted, Wilson has ventured out of the area. Last weekend, he made a two-bridge commute to Long Island, where he joined about a dozen teammates (mostly offensive linemen) at the New York Islanders' playoff game. Afterward, they hung out at the Long Island home of guard Greg Van Roten.

"I don't always think of a beach when I think of New York, but it was cool to see there's a nice beach out there," said Wilson, adding he loves the area and doesn't feel homesick.

The Jets' presumptive starter, drafted No. 2 overall, spends most of his time studying plays and practice video on his computer tablet. He's on the clock, with four months to get ready for the season opener (Sept. 12 at Carolina). With no veteran quarterbacks on the Jets' roster, Wilson is getting the bulk of the reps in practice, which is a good thing. He needs as many reps as possible as he attempts to make the formidable jump from BYU, which played a cushy schedule in 2020, to the NFL.

The goal is to get Wilson to a point where everything comes naturally, like eating cereal while watching TV -- an analogy he heard from Jets coach Robert Saleh.

"Learning plays, formations and assignments, it's kind of like eating that bowl of cereal," Wilson said. "You're not really thinking about lifting that spoon up to your mouth and chewing and all that kind of stuff. It just naturally happens."

Wilson looked good Thursday -- the first offseason practice open to the media -- showing an ability to fit the ball into tight windows on middle-of-the-field throws. But let's not put too much importance on a late-May, non-padded practice; the objective is to learn the offense and make steady improvement. The Jets, who traded three-year starter Sam Darnold before drafting Wilson, say he has star potential.

"He's relentless in terms of his want for knowledge," Saleh said. "In terms of studying, it's interesting when he's watching tape, the things he's able to pick up and recognize on tape. He's already trying to get himself in that 501 world [graduate level]. He's got a lot of horsepower in his mind and he's not afraid to go with it."

There will be "ebbs and flows" with Wilson, as Saleh put it. Such is life with a rookie quarterback. After five straight losing seasons, the Jets want to win (and win fast), but they recognize there's a learning curve and a process. There's no doubt about his arm talent. They say he has a skill that can't be taught -- the ability to adjust his arm angle.

"That's always been big, but it has been pointed out a little more recently with [Patrick] Mahomes and [Aaron] Rodgers, guys that do it at such a unique level," offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said. "That popped off [tape] right away" with Wilson.

What the Jets like most about Wilson is his desire to learn. He constantly asks LaFleur for more tape to watch. LaFleur's older brother, Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur, warned him not to burn out Wilson by making him watch too much tape. Mike's response: "He's the one who wants to watch the film."

Look at it this way: The film room is safer than the New Jersey Turnpike.