New York Jets training camp observations: Zach Wilson has uneven morning, Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner draws praise, and more

Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner and Joe Flacco were the talk of the New York Jets' third training camp practice on Saturday in Florham Park.

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — With fans packed into the nearby bleachers, the New York Jets put together an action-packed practice on Saturday at their team facility.

From fourth-round rookie lineman Max Mitchell hyping up the crowd with a pre-workout rallying cry to Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner causing a stir nearly any time he did anything (seriously, he got cheered for simply jogging down the sideline at one point), the fans in attendance at Jets training camp got a treat to start their weekend.

Zach Wilson has uneven day

As has become a QB theme on the northeast leg of Pro Football Network’s Training Camp Tour, Jets QB Zach Wilson was up and down during practice. His accuracy seemed to be off in the middle of team drills, but he eventually recovered for a solid-enough outing overall.

It should be noted that the defense played well during the third practice of training camp, and there were some pretty big drops by receivers. But Wilson had a few tosses he’d probably want back as well.

That said, he threw well to the flat on Saturday, something he struggled with as a rookie. There was one play in particular during 11-on-11 work where Wilson faced almost-immediate pressure, didn’t let it fluster him, and zoomed a laser just outside the reach of a defender to running back Michael Carter, who caught the ball in stride and sped up the field.

Wilson’s highlight of the day came early in practice. He fit a low laser across the middle to first-round wideout Garrett Wilson, who stretched out and dove for the catch. The crowd erupted as if they had all been gifted free trips to Cancun on the set of “Oprah.”

Wilson and Wilson nearly connected a highlight of the opposite variety a few plays later, as the QB sent a high rocket to the wideout, who leaped for the ball but couldn’t come up with the catch as it hit his hands. The rookie was visibly and audibly frustrated with the drop and admitted as much after practice.

The starting QB had a mixed bag of reps in the red zone to end practice. Stationed at the 10-yard line, Wilson targeted wideout Elijah Moore in the left corner of the end zone. However, starting cornerback D.J. Reed, a free agent addition, jumped the route and picked off the pass.

Reed returned the ball to the opposite end zone as his defensive teammates joined him. Gardner said he even did a backflip (admittedly not his best) to celebrate. Prior to the pick, Gardner (more on him later) and Reed both said they wanted to get an interception on the day.

However, in a positive sign, Wilson bounced back after the turnover. He completed back-to-back touchdown passes following the pick. First, he tossed a TD to wideout Jeff Smith, and then he came back with a nice scoring throw to tight end Tyler Conklin.

Bottom line: Wilson is still working to improve his game, but it was a good sign to see him battle back after some blunders.

Joe Flacco ‘has a way about him’

Joe Flacco is one of the more natural deep-ball passers in the league, even as he enters the twilight of his career. On Saturday, Flacco, working with the second-team offense, aired out the ball on a handful of occasions, and made his receivers look good.

Flacco made an excellent throw to wideout Rashad Davis early in team drills. Davis ran a “go” route, got held throughout the majority of the route, and still came down with a roughly 40-yard gain after Flacco sent a beautiful rainbow toss his way. The Jets had referees in practice and threw a flag for pass interference, but it didn’t matter since Davis made a great catch after Flacco put the ball right on him. Flacco later hit tight end Keshunn Abram on an out route for a nice connection.

Flacco also made a strong impression in red-zone drills, hitting wideout Corey Davis with a gorgeous fade pass over Reed and safety Will Parks.

Following practice, head coach Robert Saleh sang Flacco’s praises. Saleh even (likely) indirectly quoted a famous New Yorker, Billy Joel, with a compliment of the veteran’s presence.

“He’s just got a way about him,” Saleh said. “I’ll stand by it, it’s not his job to mentor or coach anybody. His job is to come out and play, but I think by the way he goes about it, his business is really beneficial to what we have and that’s a very young football team. Not only for Mike (White) and Zach, but also for other positions.”

Sauce is a star with “juice”

While Gardner didn’t have any highlight plays in the third practice, his presence was hard to miss.

The 6-foot-3 and 190-pound cornerback towers over all of his fellow defensive back teammates, so he’s easy to point out of that lineup. Fans wouldn’t let him out of their sight, as the fourth overall pick took part in individual drills and received regular cheers.

Following practice, fellow first-round pick Jermaine Johnson II complemented the cornerback’s style of play.

“He’s got juice,” Johnson said. “He’s got juice, and he does things the right way, on top of having the talent that he has. So, a guy as talented as Sauce, but with the mindset that he has and the teammate that he is, [he’s] special.”

Garrett Wilson, another first-round pick, has directly battled with Gardner during camp, and the competition has seemingly made for a fun daily matchup.

“That boy’s a dog,” Wilson said. “He’s really a dog. He’s really handsy, really good with his hands. He puts himself in the right scenario most of the time. Going up against Sauce, you really have to have a plan. You’ve got to make sure you have a plan going into your route — how you want to win — and you still might not win against that boy, so he’s a really good player. It just keeps building, we’re making each other better, he’s making the entire receiver room better.”

It should be noted that Gardner had really tight coverage on wideout Elijah Moore on a downfield route that ended up being overthrown by Zach Wilson. Gardner and Moore jockeyed down the sideline, but the ball fell out of bounds.

Injury update

In the middle of practice, defensive lineman Quinnen Williams was escorted off the field by a pair of trainers. He later returned to the field but didn’t participate in drills for the rest of the session. After the workout, Saleh said he was hit in the throat during a play, but he will be fine.

Tight end Jeremy Ruckert and running back Tevin Coleman remained on the active/non-football injury list on Saturday.

Left tackle George Fant didn’t take part in team drills as he works his way back from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Right tackle Mehki Becton, who also just came off the PUP list this week, rotated during team drills.

Running backs look explosive

During a shirts-and-shorts practice, it’s hard for running backs to look bad. That said, second-round rookie Breece Hall and incumbent starter Michael Carter played a game of “anything you can do, I can do better” during team drills. Both exploded out of the trenches for multiple big runs, and Carter did a nice job as a receiver in the flat.

Hall and Carter are battling for top dog status at the position, and Saturday’s session, while impressive, seemed like an even draw for both playmakers. Following practice, Hall acknowledged he’s looking forward to putting on pads next week.

Depth running back Ty Johnson did a nice job with some shifty runs as well. The Jets have an impressive running back group on paper. At the very least, the competition at the position should be fierce for the rest of the summer.

Quick hits

  • Rashard Davis, who caught the 40-yard bomb from Flacco early in practice, also had a really nice catch on an out route a few plays later. The former USFL standout was on the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad in 2017 when the team won Super Bowl 52 with GM Joe Douglas working in the front office. He has since bounced around quite a bit. Still only 26, Davis could be a fun underdog story to watch during the rest of camp.
  • Defensive linemen John Franklin-Myers and Bryce Huff had back-to-back “sacks” during a sequence of 11-on-11 work.
  • Wideout Denzel Mims, who is competing for a roster spot, had a Mike White pass go straight through his hands. The ball was a bit high, but Mims could have made the catch, as he got both palms on the ball. He seemed frustrated with the mistake when returning to the bench.
  • While Elijah Moore didn’t create any highlight plays, he did draw a blatant holding penalty on cornerback Bryce Hall during team periods. Moore got past Hall and the cornerback grabbed Moore all the way down the field. A flag was thrown.
  • Defensive lineman Quinnen Williams blew up a running play at the line of scrimmage early in team drills.
  • Safety Kai Nacua made an impressive pass breakup as he dove at a bullet throw during red zone work.
  • The practice ended on a TD toss from White to wideout Tarik Black. Following the catch, the entire offense swarmed Black with cheers and hugs.
  • The Pro Football Network Training Camp tour will continue on Monday in East Rutherford, N.J. with New York Giants training camp practice.
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