FORHAM PARK, NJ — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Bulked-up QB: Focusing on team and self, Zach Wilson won the offseason.
When he wasn’t throwing to his receivers on his “Zach Across America Tour,” the second-year quarterback was working on his body. Listed at 6-foot-2, 214 pounds, Wilson never will be confused with Josh Allen (6-foot-5) or Justin Herbert (6-foot-6), which is why his goal was to add weight — shock absorber for the weekly pounding.
“He looks beefy — in a good way,” coach Robert Saleh said.
Wilson said he wanted to do it the “right way,” focusing on a healthy diet. Those close to him say he has become meticulous about what he eats. He tried to gain weight in the past, getting as high as 218, but didn’t feel comfortable from an athletic standpoint. This time, he took it slow and steady in order to maintain his quickness and loose throwing motion. He didn’t divulge his current weight, but the change is apparent to everyone around him.
“It looks like he’s put on some weight,” linebacker CJ Mosley said, smiling. “He’s been in the weight room. Maybe he went down to Miami and the [players who train there] got him right. I don’t know if they were lifting weights like that at BYU. But that’s the difference between Year 1 and Year 2. Your body starts to change, you get a little older and you figure out the dos and the don’ts. That’s part of being a pro and growing up.”
Wilson is showing he wants to improve after an underwhelming rookie season. He’s doing and saying the right things, receiving praise for his mature approach, but that takes a player only so far. It’s a production business, and he has to produce a lot better than last year.
An upgraded supporting cast will help, but eventually it falls on Wilson. He can start with the little things — literally. On pass attempts between 1 to 10 yards, he completed a league-low 62% — 10% below the NFL average, per ESPN Stats & Information research. If he can get to average, which computes to about two more completions per game, the offense will be in a better place.
2. Quirky schedule: The Jets’ schedule is, in a word, bizarre. Four AFC North opponents to start the season? That’s a lot of Rust Belt.
Their Week 1 opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, faces the same deal with the AFC East. The Jets and Ravens are the first teams to open a season with four straight games against the same division since the 2004, according to Elias Sports Bureau release.
Other interesting tidbits:
The Jets have eight fewer rest days than their opponents, tied for the fourth-worst rest differential.
The Jets have to travel 7,500 miles more than their opponents, the second-worst differential.
They have the fourth-easiest finishing stretch (December-January), based on their opponents’ 2021 winning percentage (.407).
3. Man of intrigue: Every draft class has a mystery man. For the Jets, it’s fourth-round defensive end Michael Clemons (Texas A&M), a tantalizing mix of promise and concern.
He produced on the field (ranked 13th out of 470 qualified pass-rushers in pressure percentage on the FBS level), but he comes with age (24), injury and off-the-field questions. He was arrested last August on charges that included carrying of a weapon, resulting in a one-game suspension. He also has been cited with various traffic violations on at least five occasions from 2018 to 2021, per Texas court records.
On the field, you might say he’s wired a bit differently than most. General manager Joe Douglas called Clemons “one of the nastiest” players in the draft,” with Saleh adding, “When he puts a helmet on, he goes to a very dark place.” If that place happens to be the opponents’ backfield, the Jets will be happy.
4. Pricey D: If the defense stinks again this year it won’t be because the front office refused to invest money on that side of the ball. The Jets have devoted $111.6 million cap dollars to the defense, second only to the Pittsburgh Steelers ($130.8 million), according to Over the Cap. You might say they’re paying for potential because only one player (linebacker CJ Mosley) has a Pro Bowl on his resumé.
5. Big concern: The Jets were 29th against the run, and they haven’t replaced run-stuffing defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi (Jacksonville Jaguars). I bring this up for two reasons:
They open the season against the Ravens, who boast dangerous quarterback Lamar Jackson and one of the league’s most prolific rushing attacks. That could be a problem. It’s why the Jets are showing interest in free-agent defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobiwho could step immediately into the lineup alongside Quinnen Williams.
6. Dead End, no more: No position has experienced more upheaval than tight end, which is rather stunning when you consider the team’s recent history. For a decade, the Jets didn’t care about the position, evidenced by the embarrassing production — a league-low 561 catches from 2011 to 2021.
“Now, our tight end room … scary,” Uzomah said.
7. Special tome: Remember Mike Westhoff? Of course you do. He was the Jets’ special teams coach from 2001 to 2012, an X’s-and-O’s whiz who never shied away from speaking his mind. Now retired, he hasn’t lost his candor, as you will learn quickly by reading his autobiography, “Figure It Out: My Thirty-Two-Year Journey While Revolutionizing Pro Football’s Special Teams.” He was assisted by Associated Press NFL reporter Barry Wilner.
A cancer survivor, Westhoff has quite a story to tell. His chapters on his time with the Jets, which included six playoff seasons and some embarrassing lows, is particularly intriguing. He covers everyone from Tim Tebow (“not an NFL quarterback”) to Mark Sanchez (“only a manageable quarterback at best”), also touching on the two general managers and three coaches he worked under.
Westhoff has nice things to say about each of his former bosses, although he manages to unleash a few haymakers at former coaches Herm Edwards and Eric Mangini. He saves his harshest words for former GM Terry Bradway, who “was not my favorite. I thought in many ways he was barely mediocre.” He slams former GM Mike Tannenbaum for excluding him from the pre-draft process in 2012, adding, “We had gone from a championship-level team to a bulls— operation, and this was another example.”
He also reveals how his friendship with Bill Parcells, whom he considered a mentor, was ruined when Parcells, in a 2008 letter to the NFL office, accused Westhoff of violating league rules. While under contract to the Jets, Westhoff, who had “retired” for health reasons, visited a Miami Dolphins training-camp practice as a guest of Parcells. A few days later, Westhoff rejoined the Jets, who were preparing to open against Miami. That didn’t sit well with Parcells, who figured Westhoff had scouted the Dolphins illegally.
“With a miserable, chickens— letter,” Westhoff writes, “he destroyed what I believed was a great relationship.”
Westhoff’s fascinating football life is a good summer read.