EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – On the left was Zach Wilson, the boyish quarterback from BYU, the No. 2 pick in the draft two years ago, yet to justify that investment.
On the right was Aaron Rodgers, the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer, who came from Green Bay with nothing to prove, but with a mandate and one, maybe two years to lead the Jets to the Super Bowl now and help Wilson realize his promise later on.
Right, smack in the middle of this unique NFL drama, or potential drama, was Xavier High’s Tim Boyle, who had one touchdown pass and 13 interceptions in three seasons at UConn, but has carved out a five-year career in the NFL – with a lot of help from Rodgers.
The three quarterbacks were dressing side-by-side in the visitors’ locker room, discussing, smiling over their performances on the Jets’ 32-24 win over the Giants at MetLife Stadium in the last preseason game Saturday night. It’s been an interesting training camp, some of it chronicled on HBO’s Hard Knocks.
“It’s been fun,” Boyle said, after completing 9 of 11 passes for 11 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns, plus a two-point conversion. “A lot of familiarity, a lot of comfort being in the same system I played in Green Bay. I feel like I’ve put together a good camp, we’ll see what happens.”
The new roster rules make it possible for a team to stash its QB3 on the practice squad, but play him in an emergency. That’s likely the ticket for Boyle, 28, though he may appear overqualified for that role. A few years ago, as an undrafted QB in Green Bay, Boyle and Rodgers hit it off, and since the Jets convinced Rodgers to keep playing and come to New York, they’ve tried to make his surroundings comfortable, with offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett and former teammates like Boyle, to ride shotgun.
“He’s done really good job of telling us what he thinks and how he sees the game,” Boyle said. “His progressions, just the things he thinks about, the small, little details, kind of rubs off on Zach and I. Aaron’s awesome. He’s been great for Zach, ever since Green Bay he’s been great for me.”
Rodgers debuted with a couple of series, going 5-for-8, throwing a TD pass and showing that, even at 39, he can read a defense and get rid of the ball with a speed few others can match.
He has a lot of history piled on his shoulders with the Jets, who have been searching for five decades to the true successor to Joe Namath, hero of Super Bowl III. They’ve used high draft picks to try to find that guy, from Richard Todd to Wilson, and gone the veteran route before, from Boomer Esiason to Brett Favre to Rodgers.
Something tells you it will be different this time, the Jets will have success.
“Aaron’s having fun,” Boyle said. “You can tell that. He’s letting loose a little bit, going into the city and having fun, hanging out with his teammates, inspiring us. He holds us to a high standard every day. It’s kind of like a fresh breath of air. He’s around his people and he’s having fun.”
Rodgers said as much himself, that, in fact, he’s amazed at how fresh this new breath of air is after his 18 seasons with the Packers. As for Wilson, 24, the immense pressure that threatened to sink him is off for now, and he can learn from a master. He played the bulk of the game against the Giants, completing 11 of 18 for 107 yards. “I’m so proud of that kid,” coach Robert Saleh said.
He’s handled his demotion better than another might have, and Rodgers’ singular skill at communicating and mentoring is a large part of it.
“Awesome, incredible, Zach’s a super-awesome guy,” Boyle said. “I’ve gotten super close to Zach over the last couple of months and he has handling it. It’s tough, after being the starting quarterback for a huge franchise, Zach’s handled it wonderfully, Aaron’s handled it wonderfully, they have a great relationship.”
Boyle and Rodgers developed their friendship during rookie minicamp in 2018, Boyle coming in with little to precede him as a college player, but showing a rocket arm and an eagerness to learn. The first time Boyle walked into the room, Rodgers made him stand, introduce himself and tell everyone a little-known fact, something that couldn’t be found by googling him. Rodgers liked what he heard, and they sat and began to talk football. They haven’t stopped since.
“We’re like minded,” Boyle said. “We have similar interests. We formulated that into a friendship, and it’s very near and dear to my heart.”
Boyle stuck as the third quarterback that year, and has been in the league ever since, with Green Bay, Detroit and now the Jets. He has played in 16 regular season games, starting three for the Lions in 2021.
On Saturday, Boyle looked like a guy who has been in the league a while, and his two TD passes to Alex Erickson were on point, the first a sidearm sling through traffic that looked very much like a Rodgers throw.
“I felt good, thought I was seeing it well, coach Hackett called a really good game,” Boyle said. “Everything kind of clicked in the second half. It was a really good night tonight.”
Boyle is part of another fun fact in Connecticut, something you can find if you google Xavier. He is one of two former Falcons in the NFL, with Will Levis drafted in the second round and fighting for position in the Titans’ room.
“I think Will’s a great quarterback, and he’s in a good spot not having to be the guy right away,” Boyle said. “Just being able to learn from a really good quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. I think Will’s going to be awesome in the league, he’s built for it.”
Boyle and other Jets on the edge of the roster will be learning their fate over the next couple of days. This is a Jets team with a lot of talent, with sky-high expectations going into the season opener against Buffalo in two weeks. This Xavier guy has created quite a niche for himself, right smack between Zach Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, and you don’t have to be following Hard Knocks to be curious as to how it will all turn out..
“We know what we have,” Boyle said. “We know what we’re capable of. It’s time to do it.”