, Zach Wilson’s Spring Success Shows The Steep Learning Curve Of The New York Jets’ Young Cornerbacks, The Nzuchi News Forbes

Zach Wilson’s Spring Success Shows The Steep Learning Curve Of The New York Jets’ Young Cornerbacks

New York Jets coach Robert Saleh wisely tried to rein in some of the hype surrounding rookie quarterback Zach Wilson when he last spoke to the media Thursday. 

When asked what he has found out about Wilson that he didn’t know, Saleh responded, “We’re still learning. I’d love to give you an answer on that one right now. There’s going to be so much more to learn, and your best learning comes through adversity and conflict. And obviously (in) OTAS, everything has been feel-good. Everyone is excited about everything that is happening around the organization, but until we actually hit adversity, (then) we will be able to learn more about each other and how we handle things. 

“I’d short-change you if I was able to give you an answer.” 

Again, that was the right message. There is no reason for Saleh to feed into the hype and increase expectations on a raw, although seemingly poised and mature rookie. However, what Saleh understandably left out was that until an uneven performance Thursday, Wilson had been showing very well in practice sessions open to the media against a very young group of New York cornerbacks. 

General manager Joe Douglas chose not to pick up any veteran corners during free agency, and he did not fortify the position early during the draft, choosing instead to focus on offense until the fifth round. Thus, the first cornerback the Jets selected this spring was Pittsburgh’s Jason Pinnock, selected with the 175th pick in the fifth round. He has been getting a lot of work with the first unit in practices open to the media, with 2020 starter Bless Austin sidelined with an injury.  

Throw in promising but still inexperienced second-year pro Bryce Hall at the other outside corner, and fifth-rounder Michael Carter II of Duke at slot corner much of the time, and it’s not surprising that Wilson and his receivers have been able to do some business. 

Saleh, a former defensive coordinator himself, certainly knows this, but it doesn’t benefit anyone to say it out loud. The question now becomes whether he and Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich believe the young cornerbacks will improve enough to stand up to veteran quarterbacks when the season starts, or if the Jets and Douglas will need to obtain more experience at the position. 

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“They’re growing,” Saleh said Thursday when asked about this. “Obviously, it’s a learning curve. With coach (Gregg) Williams a year ago, it was more of a cover-2 base, and here we’re more of a single-high base. And so they’re being asked to learn completely new techniques, and play into the style that we play. Everyone is different. It doesn’t make anyone wrong or right. It’s an opportunity for them to continue to grow. They still have two more minicamp (practices), obviously. And from there, we’ll sit down, we’ll reassess, we’ll see where we’re at. But as of now, the focus is just on them.” 

, Zach Wilson’s Spring Success Shows The Steep Learning Curve Of The New York Jets’ Young Cornerbacks, The Nzuchi News Forbes

Ulbrich indicated the previous week that he and his coaches purposely have kept the amount of schemes to a minimum thus far to help the young cornerbacks learn the new defense faster. 

“They’re going to get to do these things over and over again,” he said. “It’s going to be just a few techniques, they’re going to put them on repeat.  

“That’s the fastest way, in my opinion, to accelerate a young guy,” Ulbrich added.

Presumably, Saleh and Ulbrich will install more when training camp arrives in mid-summer. For now, the combination of young corners and vanilla coverages often has allowed Wilson and receivers such as fellow rookie Elijah Moore to feast.

“I’m excited about what we can find in that (cornerback) room,” Ulbrich said.

If they don’t find what they need, they may have no choice but to look outside the building. With all but the top three draft picks—Wilson, guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and wide receiver Moore now signed—the Jets still have just over $27 million in cap space, per overthecap.com. They still must find a veteran backup for Wilson. 

As for veteran corners, free agent Richard Sherman, who played in Saleh’s defense with San Francisco for the past three years, is still available. But Sherman reiterated this past week, via Bloomberg QuickTake, that he wants to play for a “team that’s competing for a championship.”  

The Jets, coming off a 2-14 season and likely starting a rookie at quarterback, wouldn’t seem to fit that criteria. 

Of course, if both the Jets and Sherman can’t find what they are looking for by August, a marriage might make more sense by then.

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