FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh spent most of his day — this, the second and final joint practice with the Philadelphia Eagles — watching his defense face the Eagles' offense over on Field Two.
It was probably better that way.
By the time this column publishes, the first-year head coach should have had the opportunity to watch the tape from practice and see his offensive line once again struggle mightily to protect the young franchise quarterback.
It will be a facsimile of what he saw the first few weeks of camp with Carl Lawson using Mekhi Becton as a turnstile. Or what he saw last week in Green Bay. When a first-team defense goes against New York's best offensive line combination on a given day, that defense is winning.
In the final showdown to officially end this year's training camp, the Eagles and Jets took to about the 35-yard line with 40 seconds on the clock to run a gotta-have-it 2-minute offense. Philly scored arguably three times on their drive with Jalen Hurts before giving way to Zach Wilson and the Jets.
Jets' first down: A quick throw across the middle to Jamison Crowder, where he's tackled in bounds and the clock runs. Second down: A first-down completion to Crowder, but only 13 seconds remain on the clock and still 20 yards out. Next first down: Receiver drop. Second down with 8 seconds left: Quarterback sack with pressure coming from the right side of the offensive line.
That sequence followed a day where the Eagles stoned the Jets in the team goal-line period inside the 5, and in red zone as well.
The Zach Wilson era has arrived! Don't miss any New York Jets headlines by downloading the CBS Sports app for the latest analysis. If you already have the CBS Sports app, don't forget to favorite the Jets so you never miss a piece of Gang Green news.
Becton, who has struggled this camp, wasn't at practice due to being in the concussion protocol. That put George Fant at left tackle and Morgan Moses at right tackle. Dan Feeney took the first-team snaps at right guard in place of Greg Van Roten, who had his first and probably last vet day. Rookie left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker worked in where he could after spending most of camp sidelined with a pec injury.
There are reasons (or excuses) for the less-than-stellar offensive line play. Saleh makes the point that it takes all 11 players to make a play work. So what sort of separation are receivers getting? Was it the right play call? Is the quarterback getting the ball out on his first hitch? And, of course, was the protection any good?
"So all of it comes into play when we're studying tape, which is why I'm not as nervous as you guys as you guys watch practice," Saleh said to a media gaggle emitting some nervous laughter.
"And you might be right," Saleh said. "Who knows? We'll find out Week 1."
There's a genuine optimism about Saleh, a good-guy attitude that isn't manufactured. Stay gold, Robert. He should hope Haason Reddick and Brian Burns of the Carolina Panthers don't find their way to Wilson as easily as Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham did Wednesday.
Every piece of evidence we have from the past month indicates this offensive line will struggle in 2021. The only reason more folks aren't talking about it is because Wilson has had the good fortune of not facing first-string defenses in his spectacular outings in preseason games, and he may remain lucky on Friday if Nick Sirianni feels his defensive starters got enough good work this week.
For his part, Wilson is staying level-headed about the situation. He saw how Aaron Rodgers uses cadence up close and personal last week, and he tried it a few times to get some offsides calls against the Eagles. That's something, he says, that can help his line.
Then there's the nature of camp practices where the defense knows to a fairly high degree you're going to throw the ball and can tee off on the quarterback. And that once you get into an actual regular season game, the Jets will be able to use more screens and quick passes, play actions and draws to keep the defenses honest, Wilson says.
All of those things are true, but if you're down double digits in the third quarter, play action isn't going to be as effective. The running back rotation can be one of the league's best, but by late September teams will adjust if that's the best thing you have going for you.
The pressure then transfers to Wilson to improvise and create, which he will do effectively in doses. But even the league's best quarterback could only do so much of that in Super Bowl LV before the dam broke.
"There's always going to be risk but it's understanding when to take the risk. Turning the ball over is never a good thing but If you have zero turnovers but zero explosive plays, you're not winning games either." Wilson said.
"I think they have that trust in me that I'm going to have to be careful with the ball but understanding I'm going to take risks and make some plays and go off schedule in those real game situations and we're going to be able to do some things."
With the resources they've already spent at offensive line and with the capital they'll have to spend at some point for defensive line help in light of Carl Lawson and Vinny Curry being out for the season, the Jets may have their best combination of offensive linemen already on the roster.
As Saleh said, we'll see in Week 1 whether that optimism is properly placed.