Robert Saleh backs Jets' Zach Wilson, slams 'instant-coffee' era

ByRich Cimini ESPN logo
Monday, December 19, 2022

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets coach Robert Saleh defended embattled quarterback Zach Wilson on Monday, but wouldn't give him this week's starting assignment -- not yet, anyway.

Saleh was noncommittal on which quarterback will start Thursday night against Jacksonville Jaguars, saying Mike White (fractured ribs) still was being evaluated by doctors. The inference is that he prefers White over Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick in 2021, but Saleh insisted that Wilson has a bright future and poked critics for being too hard on the second-year quarterback.

"The frustrating thing is that this kid is going to be a good quarterback, but the NFL and this new instant-coffee world that we're in just doesn't want to give people time," Saleh said. "So, we look at him and he's just nitpicked with a fine-tooth comb."

It was Saleh who benched Wilson for three games, handing the job to White, who moved the offense more effectively. White's rib injury last week resulted in Wilson's return Sunday against the Detroit Lions, a 20-17 loss. Wilson passed for 317 yards and two touchdowns but had a costly third-quarter interception and missed several open receivers.

The Jets (7-7), losers of three straight, have virtually no margin for error in the playoff race, so Saleh's quarterback decision is critical.

Saleh praised Wilson despite the uneven performance, saying he took "a big step" and "showed at least some maturation" by overcoming a poor third quarter.

"I'm really pumped for him because, in his past, when he hit a speed bump in a game, he kind of derails," Saleh said. "But I thought he did a really good job of getting back on the rails and swinging back up in the fourth quarter to lead a touchdown drive."

Wilson's 1-yard scoring pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah gave the Jets a 17-13 lead, which they promptly gave away on a 51-yard touchdown reception by Lions tight end Brock Wright on a fourth-and-1 play that fooled the defense with 1:49 remaining.

On the Jets' ensuing possession, Wilson hit three completions but also missed two open receivers and took two sacks. The game ended with Greg Zuerlein's field goal miss from 58 yards.

"I got to be better, man," Wilson said after the game.

Saleh said he wants to name a starter "pretty quick" on the short week. White has been cleared for practice, but not contact. He wasn't cleared last week by the Jets. White said he consulted with about 10 outside doctors, none of whom cleared him.

"There's more scans to see how much he's healed," Saleh said. "There was talk that they felt like a week would show more healing, some callous, if you will, to get on the field. That's something he would have to get from another doctor and still be able to talk to our doctors about it, too. So there are a lot of hurdles he would have to go through [to start]."

White was injured eight days ago against the Buffalo Bills. The Jets said the plan last week was to start him against the Lions, but they made a surprise announcement last Friday, naming Wilson the starter.

Saleh insisted that Wilson's draft pedigree is no factor in the decision-making process. The Jets committed $35 million in guarantees to him, but the best players play, Saleh said.

"That will never change," he said.

Injury-wise, the Jets are optimistic about defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (calf) and wide receiver Corey Davis (concussion) playing Thursday night. Both sat out Sunday. Wide receiver Denzel Mims (concussion) is not expected to play.

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