Jets head coach Robert Saleh ain’t scared of dealing with a rookie quarterback.
“I don’t think there’s risk,” Saleh said. “It still comes down to having a good football team and building a good roster around everybody. There’s players here that are talented. There’s rookies that are talented. The expectation is that they’re one of 53 when it’s all said and done, and they’ve all got to perform their best to create a great football team.”
Saleh speaks from experience. Throughout his coaching career, he’s been on multiple defensive-minded staffs that have dealt with developing a young quarterback, both excellently and poorly.
The Jets are expected to draft BYU’s Zach Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick next week. As talented as Wilson is, it will be on the organization to build a stable infrastructure around him so he can succeed.
In 2012, Saleh was hired in a Defensive Quality Control role for the Seattle Seahawks when they drafted Russell Wilson and Wilson started all 16 games for the Seahawks. Pete Carroll is a defensive minded head coach, and his Seahawks teams have famously always liked running the ball — even to Russell Wilson’s detriment in the later part of his career.
But the balanced attack in Wilson’s rookie season helped get him where he is now. They averaged 162.6 yards rushing per game (fourth most in the NFL) as Marshawn Lynch toted the rock for 1,590 yards and 11 touchdowns. Their defense was phenomenal, holding offenses to 15.3 points per game (first in the NFL). This aided Russell Wilson’s development as the team didn’t give him too much responsibility.
He threw for 3,118 yards and had 30 total touchdowns with a passer rating of 100 while only attempting 25.9 passes per game, last in the league. The Seahawks went 11-5 before losing to the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Round.
In his second year, he helped the Seahawks win the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos in 2013. And as each season has passed, he developed into an elite quarterback.
Saleh has also seen how not to do it.
From 2014-2016, he was the linebackers coach for the Jaguars when they drafted Blake Bortles, coming to Jacksonville with former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
The Jaguars defense allowed 25.8 points per game and their running attack wasn’t good. They averaged 102 yards per game (21st in the NFL) and Denard Robinson led their running attack with only 582 yards.
Those Jacksonville teams needed way too much from Bortles, and he couldn’t deliver. He struggled and went 3-10 as a starter. He threw for 2,908 yards, 11 touchdowns with 17 interceptions. He had 475 pass attempts which was 17th in the NFL. In the next two seasons, he went 8-24 as a starter and was a bust in Jacksonville.
“We’ve seen successes with Russell, we’ve seen things not go so well at Jacksonville,” Saleh said. “The one thing that I can attest to is from a schematic standpoint. The scheme that LaFleur is bringing in is the best scheme in the world, from an offensive standpoint, in my opinion.”
As mentioned throughout the offseason, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur will be running the style of offense run by his brother, Packers coach Matt LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan.
Robert Griffin III won rookie of the year in that offense, Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan and Jimmy Garoppolo had career years in that scheme. It’ll feature an efficient run game with play action and quick rhythm throws — aspects that a rookie quarterback like Zach Wilson can thrive at from day one.
Even though Saleh wasn’t directly working with the development of those young quarterbacks, he was around and learned what works and what doesn’t work.
Russell Wilson was surrounded by an elite defense and running game which took heat off him, only requiring him to play complementary football and develop at his own pace.
Bortles was forced to throw the ball more with a below average running game and a bad defense. He only had one winning season in five years in Jacksonville. And that year, the team’s defense was third in points allowed and led the league in rushing.
Unfortunately for Bortles, Zach Wilson will probably the one to benefit from his suffering. Saleh learned the hard way what you can and can’t ask a rookie quarterback to do.
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