FLORHAM PARK, NJ — Garrett Wilson hadn’t planned on saying this first.
But as soon as veteran receiver Allen Lazard said it out loud, the offensive rookie of the year decided he could too.
“I’m not going to beat around the bush, man: We want to win a Super Bowl,” Wilson said Thursday after the New York Jets’ first training camp practice. “You don’t make moves in the offseason like we did unless you’re trying to get there.”
You don’t trade for four-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers if you’re not actively and urgently trying to win everything.
So why not say it?
“That’s what you want,” Rodgers said. “It’s spectacular.”
Florham Park’s sun shone on Thursday afternoon, the heat index 85 degrees and UV rays 7 degrees, 12 degrees higher and two points stronger than the concurrent conditions in Green Bay. Even the weather wanted to remind Rodgers and his companions: the spotlight is brighter in the New York market. Heat is more penetrating.
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Jets fans didn’t hesitate to chant “No Fly Zone!” when cornerback Michael Carter II broke up some Rodgers-led plays in 11-on-11 drills, teammate DJ Reed broke up another Rodgers pass on a red-zone job. The fans jeered as the offense dropped to the ground for push-ups after a busy defensive day.
But as Rodgers and his collection of wide receivers work to get on the same page against the fourth best defense in the NFL in 2022, the quarterback intends not to criticize or complain. He intends to teach.
“Maybe earlier in my career I was a little more easily angered,” Rodgers mused of the patience that longtime teammates agree he’s honed. “I feel like I’m a little less triggered as I get older.”
This could be just what the Jets need.
‘With Aaron, it’s a little more complex’
Rodgers’ glory days are not far behind. Just two seasons ago, he was the league’s MVP, scoring a touchdown on 7% of his pass attempts and an interception on 0.8%.
Three seasons ago, Rodgers also earned league MVP honors. Just months after the Green Bay Packers made their selection for his successor, Rodgers’ 48-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio went along with a league-best 70.7% completion percentage.
So while it’s easy to wonder if Rodgers’ drop in productivity and efficiency last season — he threw 26 touchdowns and 12 picks as the Packers missed the playoffs for the first time in four years — correlated with his age, it could also be a lazy explanation. Rodgers, his teammates and coaches needed to be better. But was age and physical decline really what brought him closer to average, but still above? Could some of Rodgers’ pace be restored simply by changing his communication tactics with his teammates?
The Jets suspect the latter.
“Not to say it was difficult to play with him at first in Green Bay. [but] he was a little more like, ‘You guys need to take this,'” said receiver Allen Lazard, who totaled 1,301 yards and 14 touchdowns his last two seasons at Green Bay. “But he’s a little slower here. There are many new players. The cadence he has, the way he calls the plays, the timing of the routes, his anticipation. He plays in a state of flow and just letting the game happen.”
Rodgers doesn’t want to operate a reduced offense or regress below his capacity. But he wants to build the trust and communication needed to execute his advanced understanding of the scheme, he and Packers-to-Jets teammates like Lazard and receiver Randall Cobb aiming to stop taking what they know about this offense for granted and start relearning everything together.
They consider that several recent Packers eras, as well as the last Jets era, took place on the West Coast offense. They remember that NFL play concepts are rarely what new to professional football players, but its applications and wrinkles can deviate from the familiarity of teammates, while the game calls and terminology almost certainly introduce new variety.
“Aaron’s way of looking at football is a 400 level course that some people are getting into fresh out of college and this is the 100 level for them,” Cobb told Yahoo Sports. “A lot of offenses want to think about the quarterback and just allow them to play freely. ‘This is the play. You don’t understand it, you have it as another option.’ With Aaron, it’s a little more complex.”
That’s why Lazard said the Jets are installing not their old Green Bay offense, but “the Aaron Rodgers offense.” Rodgers emphasized that Nathaniel Hackett, his New York offensive coordinator with whom he also worked in Green Bay, and Packers head coach Matt LaFleur deserve their share of credit for systematizing the concepts each of the three men brought to their 2020-21 collaboration, but Lazard was talking less about the offense’s roots than its reality.
Football requires improvisation so that the moves go from theory to execution. Rodgers’ improvisation brings the plans the coaches create to life. “Chess in motion,” Cobb called it.
“When he’s on the field, the whole playbook is open at any time,” Lazard said. “He always has a counter to whatever you are trying to do to stop us from succeeding.”
Rodgers’ Jets embrace the target and the dream
Thursday, as “Hard Knocks” cameras dotted the sidelines and interview tents, and rowdy fans noted botched plays, Rodgers wasn’t just focusing on the road to success. He also stressed the risks of that – or more accurately, the dangers of early success and the need to deal with success and keep up with the hype if the Jets are anywhere near proving their Lombardi goals.
They will face difficult on-field assignments early in the season, opening their season against teams that won 13 and 12 games in 2022, respectively, the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys. The Jets’ AFC East is expected to be much tougher than the Rodgers’ NFC North, whether it’s the constant game threat that Bills quarterback Josh Allen poses or the nightmarish defensive drafts of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. The Miami Dolphins, like the Jets, continued to amass top talent by acquiring cornerback Jalen Ramsey this offseason after trading receiver Tyreek Hill last year.
Even if the Jets can survive their division, can they really represent the AFC in a Super Bowl when the likes of Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs and Joe Burrow’s Cincinnati Bengals make an appearance?
The conference is loaded. The lights shine. And little is guaranteed even on a solid foundation.
And yet – none of this changes the plan or the expectation at Florham Park, head coach Robert Saleh distinguishing between expectations and pressure.
“There are always expectations,” said Saleh, wearing an “I love Hard Knocks” shirt reminiscent of the iconic New York logo. “One thing I learned about this city is that you can have an expansion team and the expectation is to go 17-0. But as far as pressure goes, the pressure is to do your best every day, find a way to improve every day and trust that the results will come.
“We embrace being a team that can have a target on its back.”
The Jets are also embracing their Super Bowl dreams, some contributing verbal demonstrations to the gradual action concert.
“That’s the mindset we’re adopting at our facilities,” said Wilson. “We know where we want to go. Personally, I think it’s okay to talk about it.
“If you want to take this shit, take it. Talk about it. It’s cool.”