New Jets coach Robert Saleh has referred to this offseason as the “world’s greatest honeymoon” on several occasions.
That honeymoon hits the next phase Wednesday when the Jets will conduct their first training camp practice. In a few weeks, they will be on the field for preseason games and then the regular season will be here.
Although the tragic death of assistant coach Greg Knapp on Thursday casts a pall over the start of this Jets training camp, it is otherwise filled with optimism about what’s to come on the field. Saleh has breathed life into an organization after a 2-14 season. New quarterback Zach Wilson gives fans their favorite thing — hope.
But here is the challenge of the next six weeks: separating hope from hype. It is something that has been on my mind as I prepare to cover another training camp. We’ve been through this before with the Jets, with a highly drafted quarterback or with a new head coach. It presents a challenge for reporters covering the team.
During training camp, I will be asked about Wilson and Saleh all the time. Here is the truth: This training camp is like the first half inning of a nine-inning game. We’ll see a little, but not much. Still, that won’t stop people from breathlessly talking about a screen pass from Wilson or a motivational move by Saleh. We’ll get carried away (myself included).
That is why I’m trying to remind myself to enter this training camp with some perspective. Wilson is going to have some good days and some bad days, but most days will be nondescript. Nondescript is not all that interesting, so things will get blown out of proportion. With quarterbacks taken as high as Wilson (No. 2 overall), that is how it goes: any good things are viewed as a clue to how good he can be, and any negatives are cast aside as rookie mistakes. We are at the confirmation bias stage. We are all looking for signs that he is as good as the Jets’ evaluators thought he was in the draft.
I received some emails in the spring, after positive reports on Wilson, that reminded me Jets fans read the same things about Sam Darnold three years ago. It is a fair point. It felt as if, for much of Darnold’s tenure here, fans and the media were waiting for him to be as good as everyone thought he would be coming out of USC and excusing his poor play for various reasons. It was not until last season that people finally began admitting he just might not be that good. Even now, people believe he will thrive in Carolina with more weapons and different coaches.
It is a good reminder to take things in stride over the next six weeks. We won’t really start learning about Wilson until Sept. 12, when he lines up against Darnold and the Panthers.
Saleh is even tougher to evaluate in training camp. There is no questioning the impact he has already had on the organization from an energy standpoint. You can feel the rejuvenation. That’s swell in June and July, but no one will care if the Jets start 0-4.
During training camp, we can observe Saleh’s interactions with the players a bit and talk to them about Saleh, but we won’t see his decision-making until the regular season starts. Giants coach Joe Judge got a PR win last summer when video showed him getting muddy during a loose-ball drill in practice. The good vibes continued for Judge into the season, even though the Giants only went 6-10.
It feels as if Saleh will get the benefit of the doubt for a while, as Judge has, because he replaced the unpopular Adam Gase the same way Judge got a bump because he was not Pat Shurmur.
It is fine to be optimistic and excited about the Jets’ future. There is no doubt Jets fans deserve to have some reasons to believe. But nothing over the next six weeks is going to tell us for sure how Saleh and Wilson will work out.
Keep that in mind when reading Wilson’s throwing stats on Aug. 4 or hearing about Saleh making the team run sprints after a bad practice late next month.
Honeymoons are great, but they are no indication of how the marriage will ultimately work out.