FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Before his injury, quarterback Aaron Rodgers served as a day-to-day mentor to Zach Wilson. Now the New York Jets are counting on that relationship to boost Wilson as he assumes the starting job.
Wilson, who will start Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, said he’s “absolutely” a better player because of what he has learned from Rodgers.
“I feel like I’ve been trying to copy every little thing he’s doing, from his footwork to the coaching tips he has given us,” Wilson said Thursday. “He’s done an amazing job, more than we could ask for as quarterbacks.”
Rodgers, who tore his left Achilles’ tendon on the fourth play of Monday night’s win over the Buffalo Bills, isn’t with the team as he sorts out his medical situation. The team is making a difficult transition at quarterback, but several players said Rodgers, in absentia, still is having a positive impact, especially on Wilson.
“Spending some time with Aaron and being around him, he’s got a new way of seeing the game,” wide receiver Garrett Wilson said. “He’s able to simplify it and take matchups and stuff like that. Those are the main things I see. He’s going about everything the right way. I keep saying that, but it’s so true. Now for his opportunity to come, I know he’s so ready. I can’t wait to see what he does on Sunday with the starting job.”
Zach Wilson said he has been texting with Rodgers this week, but he wants to give him his space as he prepares for season-ending surgery. They’ve known each other for a few years, but the friendship blossomed last January, when Wilson went to visit Rodgers at his home in Malibu, California. This was before the trade speculation had started.
“Big bro and little bro, hanging out,” Wilson said with a smile. “I just wanted to spend a little time together.”
When Rodgers was traded in April, he said one of his goals was to mentor Wilson, the former No. 2 overall pick whose second season was a disappointment. Not only was he benched twice, but his leadership was called into question when he refused to take accountability for a poor performance in a loss to the New England Patriots.
In training camp, Wilson and Rodgers were almost inseparable. Their relationship became one of the central storylines in HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”
“[Rodgers] might have coached him more than I have or Todd [Downing] has, and I think he’s benefitted from that,” said offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, referring to the passing-game coordinator and de facto quarterbacks coach.
Wilson did an admirable job on Monday night, completing 14 of 21 passes for 140 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He led the offense to only 16 points in nine possessions, not counting kneel downs, but his third-down passing (4-for-6) impressed the coaches.
Wilson acknowledged he might need to regain the confidence of the locker room, considering last season’s struggles, but he said it’s not foremost on his mind.
“I don’t think I need to think of it like that,” said Wilson, whose career record is 8-14. “I think how I can go out there and play football will earn that trust back from those guys. I would say I have a very good relationship with everybody in this locker room.”
Wilson, 24, was in such a mental funk last season that he was demoted to third string — a “reset,” the Jets called it. The plan was to have him learn for a couple of years at Rodgers’ side, but the plan got blown up on Monday night. Crediting Rodgers, Wilson said he has a new mindset this season.
“The stress of things sometimes can make you not love [football],” he said, alluding to last season. “This year, it’s been: How can I spend more time with my teammates and coaches rather than focusing on being hard on myself? … Now I’m just having tons of fun.”
Meanwhile, Hackett, who is extremely close to Rodgers, stated emphatically he believes the four-time MVP will be back in 2024.
“Oh, yeah,” Hackett said. “Whenever Aaron has his mind set on something, good luck for anybody that wants to change his mind.”
The Jets hope to add a veteran backup. They showed interest in the Los Angeles’ Rams’ Brett Rypien before the Rams promoted him from the practice squad to the 53-man roster, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. Rypien played for Hackett last season in Denver.