Jets rookie QB Zach Wilson: Starting job has 'got to be earned'

It will be a few more months before Zach Wilson's NFL career begins in earnest. But his first workout as a quarterback for the New York Jets is in the books.

The No. 2 overall selection, along with his fellow 2021 draftmates and undrafted free agents, commenced rookie minicamp Friday. Wilson said it didn't take long to notice the difference between the college and pro game.

"A lot of thinking. Way more thinking than you typically want to do in football, but that's a Day 1 kind of thing," Wilson told reporters Saturday. "I really think it just comes down to the scheme part of it, how much more detailed and complicated, to a point. And I think that's what makes it so special.

"There's so many small things that change that momentum and change a game. That's what separates everybody in this league. The best and the worst quarterbacks, whoever it is, it's such a small difference between those, and it really shows you the littlest details are what make the biggest difference."

Such an approach from Wilson would seem to be a smart, if not necessary, foundation to build upon. He's already planning to organize throwing sessions with rookies and returning receivers following the three-day camp.

Wilson, of course, is primed to be the Jets' starter after the organization traded Sam Darnold to the Panthers prior to the draft and did not acquire an established veteran in free agency. (James Morgan and Mike White make out the rest of the current depth chart.) The 21-year-old understands the significance of the role -- he was QB1 for the better part of his three seasons at BYU -- but at this stage is more concerned with getting acclimated to his new environment.

After all, he still has a lot to prove before winning the starting job.

"Obviously, that's important, but that's not my focus right now," he said. "My focus is to learn the offense, keep getting better every single day, do what I can with the guys around me. And I think the rest takes care of itself. In this position, the coaches want to play the best player, and that position's got to be earned. I got to go in there and I got to make sure I do what I'm supposed to do. And that will take care of itself."

First-year coach Robert Saleh liked what he saw from his new signal-caller in the opening session.

"He did a really nice job," Saleh said. "The ball was in and out of his hands very crisp. He was in rhythm, he was on time. Players were running the right routes and the ball was barely on the ground, so it was a very good first day for him. Now he's got to stack it up and get better every day."

Wilson arrived at the camp sporting a No. 2 jersey, which was somewhat of a surprise after he'd primarily worn No. 1 at BYU. He said the number is something he's still deciding on but will "most likely" keep.

"Mixing it up, doing something new," Wilson explained. "I like any single-digit number and I think it's kind of cool that I was the second pick. I think that's a cool reason to switch it up."

New York's front office is looking to settle on a different type of number with one of its top defensive players. Saleh said he's been in contact with safety Marcus Maye, who signed his franchise tag in March but is seeking a long-term deal. It appears to be a priority for general manager Joe Douglas as well.

"We had a really nice discussion and obviously him and his agent are working with Joe on trying to get his deal done, and hopefully that happens soon," Saleh said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for what [players] are going through. Again, you guys know my philosophy: I think these kids have earned the right to ask for whatever they can, especially when they do things the right way like [Maye] has. Joe and his staff are working relentlessly to get something done."

Tune in to the 2021 NFL Schedule release at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, May 12, on NFL Network, NFL.com and the NFL app.

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