Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s experience has prepared him to develop Jets new quarterback Zach Wilson. With LaFleur running the west coast offense, he knew early in Wilson’s draft process that this one was a good fit for the BYU quarterback.
“His ability to make quick decisions whether it be to throw the ball away or go off schedule and make plays,” LaFleur said. “So there’s just a lot of factors that just popped right off of the tape that could translate to not just this offense, but any offense. Then on top of it having that background of somewhat playing under center and doing some play action type stuff. So you could literally see it correlate to the system that we want to run.”
LaFleur’s NFL coaching career started with the Browns as an offensive intern in 2014. That was when the team had rookie quarterbacks, Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw, start games. So he has some experience dealing with first year QBs.
But the dynamic was slightly different from the Jets situation. Brian Hoyer was the Browns’ starter for the majority of that season, even though Manizel was a first-round pick. Wilson will start on day one for Gang Green.
In addition, Manziel’s college offense wasn’t a pro-style system, but the Browns still tried to fit the offense similar to his skill set.
“When I first got there, we drafted Johnny, and the difference to that was Johnny didn’t play in an NFL system,” LaFleur said. “He never played under center at all. And we were going to fit some of that skill set, that he had to play more in the gun and do some of the zone read, Robert Griffin type stuff, but it was a totally different circumstance in terms of what he had been accustomed to.”
But coming out of BYU, Wilson played closer to a pro-style offense that has some similarities to what LaFleur is going to run for the Jets, which is good for fit purposes.
“The unique part about Zack is the fact that at BYU he played under center so often,” LaFleur said. “Obviously, he was in gun too because that’s where football is going, that’s where the NFL is going a little bit. But obviously having that foundation and being able to play under center makes it quite a bit different than what that 2014 year was.”
In LaFleur’s short time he’s also been impressed with Wilson’s mental approach.
“From the mental standpoint, just in terms of how much he wants to learn per day, he doesn’t look like he gets tired of learning,” LaFleur said. “So it’s a pretty unique thing that if we only have two to three hours and that’s all a quarterback’s mind can process for the day, then that’s good, that’s a full day’s work in terms of knowledge of an offense. He feels like and we all feel like he can go a little bit longer with it so it’s pretty unique.”
LaFleur has spent all of his NFL coaching career under the wing of Kyle Shanahan. The duo was in Cleveland, Atlanta and San Francisco, which prepared him to be the play caller for the Jets, but this isn’t LaFleur’s first time calling plays in his coaching career.
LaFleur was the offensive coordinator when he worked for an FCS program at Davidson in 2013 and with a D-II program at St. Joseph’s College from 2011-2012. He views that as an unforgettable experience.
“My first three years I probably learned the most out of anything. I came right out of college and had an incredible opportunity to call pass plays a year out and I look back, I’m like man I knew nothing,” LaFleur said with a smile. “This whole process, every year I’ve been learning something new and I’ve been very fortunate to be around some really, really good coaches.”
LaFleur has prepared himself for this moment, now we’ll see if he’s the right guy for the Jets.
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