Zach Wilson's selection as a captain another example of how all-in Jets are on him

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Zach Wilson on field no helmet Jets OTAs June 2021
Zach Wilson on field no helmet Jets OTAs June 2021

There is no rule that says a rookie starting quarterback must be a team captain. In fact, most NFL veterans will remind those rookies that respect isn’t given, it’s earned.

So yes, it says a lot that the Jets players voted Zach Wilson a team captain on Wednesday. And while that may seem like an obvious choice on the outside, even Jets head coach Robert Saleh said he was initially taken aback when he saw the voting results.

"When I did see it, I was like, ‘Oh, look it that,’" Saleh said. "I think it’s more of a testament to him and the way he’s been able to conduct himself. You go to the cafeteria and he’s hanging out with his O-linemen. He’s got an infectious personality. So, credit to him and the way he’s handled himself so far."

That’s just another reminder of how all-in everyone is on the 23-year-old Wilson, and how he’s quickly won over everyone from the top of the organization on down. There was no guarantee it would be easy. Veteran players want to win and rarely want to start over with a rookie quarterback. Some of them, especially those who knew Sam Darnold, had to be skeptical of the start.

But Wilson made it a point from Day 1 to not only impress his teammates on the field, but to become a big part of their lives off the field, too. That included everything from his trips to Long Island for Islanders playoff games with his offensive linemen, to his organized workouts in Florida with some of his receivers.

And it included extra film sessions, late-night texts, building friendships and showing he’s willing to work harder than everybody else.

So yes, Wilson is right that “As a quarterback, obviously that leadership role should just be in place no matter what.” But he also didn’t just assume that it would be. He didn’t underestimate how important it was to make his new teammates comfortable with the new guy, to ease their concerns and to give them a reason to believe.

“I think something I’ve tried to work on is my personal and emotional connections with guys off the field,” Wilson said. “Obviously everything is business when we’re here and on the field you want to be that guy they can look to. But off the field you want to be someone that actually gets to know them and understands their background, where they came from.

“So I think that’s super important – to know everybody’s name and kind of their story.”

Aug 21, 2021; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) drops back to pass in the first half against Green Bay Packers during a preseason game at Lambeau Field.
Aug 21, 2021; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) drops back to pass in the first half against Green Bay Packers during a preseason game at Lambeau Field.

The evidence of his hard work on that front was clear all summer in the way his teammates glowed about him, and not just about what he did on the field in practice. They generally seemed to like him. They gravitated towards him as if he were a grizzled veteran.

And they seem ready to follow him, too.

“He’s a young dude, but he’s ready to lead,” said receiver Corey Davis. “The team wouldn’t have voted him captain if he wasn’t ready and if he didn’t show us something that he was ready to be a good leader. He’s been doing that all camp – extra work, a lot of things people don’t see. I think he’s ready for it.”

There is a bit of irony at play with Wilson’s captaincy, too. A big pre-draft storyline surrounding him was how he wasn’t a captain for BYU’s opener last season – a fact he and many others attributed to the fact that he was coming off an injury-plagued sophomore season and, at least that summer, there was no guarantee that the starting job was his.

That obviously was never the case with the Jets. It was clear he was going to be the starter from the moment Darnold was traded. And by then, Wilson was already hard at work on not just becoming a leader of the offense, but of the entire team.

“Obviously coming in as a quarterback you’ve got to be the guy and you’ve got to take charge of the offense,” Davis said. “That’s your huddle. But he’s made huge strides taking ownership of the team and leading not only vocally but by example.

“He’s going to be a great captain, a great leader, and do great things for us.”