Jets’ Wilson needs to ‘be loose and play free’ down stretch

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Zach Wilson’s eyes have been the overwhelming focus this week.

The New York Jets know once the rookie quarterback has his sights set, the footwork will come — and so will more accurate throws.

That’s when Wilson will be able to say see ya later to the bounced passes and overthrown tosses that have been making too many appearances through his first NFL season.

“It’s, of course, frustrating because they should be the easier ones, right?” Wilson said Thursday. “And I need to have that comfortable feeling of what I had last year.”

That was when Wilson was completing 73.5% of his passes and breaking Steve Young’s school record for completion percentage in a season at BYU.

“But it’s a different situation,” Wilson acknowledged. “I’m throwing to different guys than I was last year. It wasn’t the same guys I had for three years straight. So, it’s all just adjusting. It’s a new offense, a new scheme, there’s new guys rushing now, I’ve got new guys blocking for me. And so, it’s just adjusting to all of it.

“And I need to be able to be comfortable back there and understand it’s part of the process. It’s going to get better with time.”

Wilson soared up the draft charts and became the No. 2 overall pick in April because of his ability to make every throw. With his big arm and off-platform playmaking ability, he seemed a perfect fit for a team needing a franchise-type quarterback.

But Wilson has struggled through his nine NFL starts, tossing just nine touchdown passes with 11 interceptions. Most alarming is his 56.1 percent completion rate, which ranks last in the league. And it’s the short passes — the ones that should be helping him move the offense along — that are giving him trouble.

“I know Zach’s frustrated with it, and I know he has made those throws his whole life,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said. “The difference is this is Sunday in the NFL. The speed of the game is just faster, and things are happening faster.”

Wilson’s 45.2 percent completion rate — 19 of 42 — in New York’s 30-9 loss to New Orleans last week was the second lowest of any quarterback with at least 40 attempts in a game this season. It’s a far cry from the success Wilson is used to, and LaFleur and coach Robert Saleh have said eye placement is part of the reason for some of his accuracy issues.

Wilson sees some other aspects he needs to be better at, too.

“There’s always improvement in just getting your eyes over there and obviously seeing the throw, but personally for me, I just need to play loose and not try to be such a perfect pocket passing quarterback all the time,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. I’m just trying to do so right by the coaches and what they’re asking me to do.

“And a part of it, I need to just be loose and play free and obviously play within the offense, but just react and throw the ball like I’ve always known how to throw the ball.”

That’s what the next four games will be about for Wilson, who could head into the offseason feeling a lot better about things with a bit of success down the stretch.

“Even what we’ve gone through, it’s been the struggles of it all, but I feel like you’ve got to kind of go through all that to pull the good stuff from it,” Wilson said.

Wilson will face a tough task Sunday at Miami, which has used a zero-blitz scheme at times to rattle quarterbacks. The rookie missed the teams’ first meeting last month because of a sprained knee ligament. The Dolphins won 24-0 while giving Joe Flacco very little opportunity to do anything offensively.

“For Zach, it’s not overanalyzing anything,” LaFleur said. “Just take whatever play is called — the good, the bad, whatever — don’t make a bad play worse and just live in that moment and don’t overthink it and go through your progression. If it’s there, rip it. Getting the eyes in the right spot and at the right time is going to be critical.”

Wilson just wants to be efficient with his play and let his talent take over his eyes, arm and feet.

“In this offense, yeah, there is overthinking on certain things, maybe there’s things you don’t even need to worry about,” Wilson acknowledged. “And I think that’s part of it is just understanding what you actually need to know and what you don’t.

“That’s one thing I’m learning through this process is what’s just kind of wasted space and what can I actually use just to play fast and do my thing that I need to be doing out there.”

NOTES: LT George Fant (knee) and LB C.J. Mosley (rest day) didn’t practice. … DT Sheldon Rankins (knee) was upgraded to limited after sitting out Wednesday. … RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (ankle) and OL Dan Feeney (back) were also limited. … DE John Franklin-Myers (knee) was a full participant after being limited. … CB Isaiah Dunn (non-COVID-19 illness) also fully participated after sitting out Wednesday.

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