There is no rule that says a starting quarterback has to be a team captain. In fact, most NFL veterans will remind these rookies that respect isn’t given, it is earned.
So yeah, it says a lot that the Jets players voted Zach Wilson a team captain on Wednesday. And while that may seem like an obvious choice on the outside, even the Jets head coach Robert saleh said he was initially surprised when he saw the results of the vote.
“When I saw him I was like, ‘Oh, look at this,’” Saleh said. “I think that’s more of a testament to him and how he may have behaved. You go to the cafeteria and he hangs out with his O linemen. He’s got a contagious personality. So thanks to him and to the way he’s been doing so far. “
It’s just another reminder of how everyone is all-in on Wilson, 23, and how he quickly won over everyone from top of the organization to the bottom. There was no guarantee it would be easy. Veteran players want to win and rarely want to start over with a rookie quarterback. Some of them, especially those who knew Sam darnold, must have been skeptical about leaving.
But Wilson made it a point from day one not only to impress his teammates on the pitch, but to become a big part of their lives off the pitch as well. This included everything from his trips to Long Island for the Islanders playoff games with his offensive linemen to his organized practice in Florida with some of his receivers.
And that included extra movie shoots, late night lyrics, making friendships, and showing that he was willing to work harder than everyone else.
So yes, Wilson is right to say “As a quarterback, that leadership role obviously should be in place no matter what.” But he didn’t just assume it would. He didn’t underestimate how important it was to put his new teammates at ease with the new guy, allay their concerns and give them a reason to believe.
“I think something I’ve tried to work on is my personal and emotional connection with the guys off the pitch,” Wilson said. “Obviously it’s all business when we’re here and on the pitch, you want to be that guy they can turn to. But off the pitch you want to be someone who gets to know them and understands their past, where they’re from.
“So I think it’s super important – to know everyone’s name and the genre of their story.”
Evidence of his hard work on that front was clear all summer long in the way his teammates beamed about him, and not just what he did on the pitch in training. They generally seemed to like him. They gravitated towards him as if he was a grizzled veteran.
And they seem ready to follow him too.
“He’s a young guy, but he’s ready to lead,” said wide receiver Corey Davis. “The team wouldn’t have elected him captain if he wasn’t ready and if he hadn’t shown us something that he was ready to be a good leader. He’s been doing this the whole camp – extra work, a lot of things people don’t see. I think he’s ready for this.
There is also a bit of irony involved with Wilson’s captaincy. A big pre-draft story that surrounded him was how he wasn’t captain for the BYU opener last season – a fact he and many others attributed to his exiting. of an injury-plagued second season and, at least that summer, there was no guarantee that the starting job was his.
This has obviously never been the case with the Jets. It was clear he was going to be the starter from the moment Darnold was traded. And by that point, Wilson was already working hard to become not only a leader of the attack, but of the entire team.
“Obviously, as a quarterback you have to be the guy and you have to take offense,” said Davis. “It’s your group. But he’s made huge strides in making the team his own and leading not only vocally but by example.
“He’s going to be a great captain, a great leader and do great things for us.”