For all the attention paid to how many games injured Jets quarterback Zach Wilson will or won’t miss, Robert Saleh can’t help but think about all the lost practice reps.
Whether Wilson’s recovery from a bone bruise and meniscus tear in his right knee falls in the optimistic 2-4 week timetable and he is back to play Week 1 or whether he is sidelined into the regular season, he won’t return as fully developed as he otherwise would’ve been with a full training camp entering his second season.
“The timing of it all is terrible and it sucks,” Saleh said after coaching Sunday’s practice, “but I think Zach can still have an opportunity to grow from it if he attacks it mentally.”
Wilson flew Sunday to Los Angeles, where he will undergo surgery Tuesday by renowned orthopedist Dr. Neal ElAttrache. The hope is that Wilson only needs a meniscus trim and not a recovery-prolonging full repair after he crumbled to the ground making a cut at the end of a rush in Friday’s preseason game against the Eagles.
“We’re optimistic, but he’s not out of the woods until they get in there and make the decision,” Saleh said. “Based on all the information that’s been presented to us, I feel good, but, as I’m learning, you never know.”
The Jets breathed easy Saturday when an MRI revealed that Wilson avoided the initial worst-case fears of a season-ending torn ACL. Criticism of Wilson running for extra yards on the fateful play is a case of “hindsight is 20/20,” center Connor McGovern said.
There wasn’t a metaphorical dark cloud hanging over Sunday’s practice as Joe Flacco took over leading the starters and left the second-string in Mike White’s hands. Right tackle Mekhi Becton (knee) also is visiting ElAttrache for a consultation, but he is expected to miss the season.
“Spirits are still really high,” McGovern said. “Zach’s is not a season-ending injury, by any means. Obviously, we want him out there getting these really valuable reps, but … he’s going to do whatever he can to come as fast as possible. A young guy like him, you have to make sure to tell him, ‘It’s OK,’ and to come back when he’s ready, and not rush it because he’s dying to get back out there.”
Therein lies the risk, especially because this is Wilson’s second major right knee injury in a 10-month span, after he missed four games with a sprained PCL last season. For as long as the Jets leave Week 1 open as an option for Wilson, he could unintentionally cut rehab corners trying to be cleared before Sept. 11.
“That’s a fair point,” Saleh said when asked about possibly ruling out Wilson against the Ravens sooner rather than later. “I think that’s all going to depend on what happens with the surgery and the feedback we get from the doctors.”
Flacco, 37, will play in the final two preseason games against the Falcons and Giants, said Saleh, who is not about to overcorrect to avoid injury. The joint practices leading up to those games could’ve furthered Wilson’s growth.
“It’s a setback in that Zach is missing an unbelievable opportunity to get these reps in, to play another defense — especially the Giants who have such an elaborate [defensive] pressure system,” Saleh said. “He has to stay dialed in — just like he was last year when he was hurt — learn from his teammates and try to be involved as much mentally as he can be.”
The quarterback-center exchange ran smoothly Sunday. McGovern guessed that the quarterback he has snapped to most often in his career is Flacco, between 2019 as Broncos teammates and last season. Jets quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese was an offensive quality control coach with those Broncos.
“When you’re the backup, your emotions are up and down during the course of a game,” Flacco said. “It’s a transition [to starting], but because I’ve played so much football, you get back in rhythm pretty quickly.”