Troy Aikman relates to Zach Wilson's rookie struggles, remains bullish on the New York Jets QB

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. Welcome to the club: Zach Wilson's rookie season wasn't pretty. No one can relate to that better than Troy Aikman, who went 0-11 with nine touchdowns and 18 interceptions after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Dallas Cowboys in 1989.

"I struggled as much as any [rookie quarterback] in the history of the game," Aikman said this week.

Not everyone experiences the Aikman-Wilson tribulations, which the former Cowboys star acknowledged by saying of Wilson, "Welcome to what has become a smaller club of struggling rookie quarterbacks." Wilson was 3-10 as the Jets' starter last season, finishing with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

This doesn't mean Aikman is down on Wilson's long-term prospects. While he typically doesn't study quarterbacks until they reach the NFL, he did do some homework on Wilson around the time of the 2021 draft and came away impressed.

"I like Zach Wilson a lot," Aikman said. "From what I saw of him, I liked him a lot. I expected maybe not to see him struggle as much as he did last year, but I think he's got a chance to be a really good player.

"We don't give these guys much of a grace period anymore. I don't know that that's necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. I think expectations have changed so much because of some of the success we've seen from some of these rookie quarterbacks, not only in the last few years. It goes back to a guy like Ben Roethlisberger and what he was able to do."

Roethlisberger was a rookie for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004 and went 13-0 as a starter in the regular season.

Wilson's preseason consisted of nine plays, two of which ended with bad mistakes -- an ugly interception and an ill-advised scramble that resulted in a torn meniscus and bone bruise in his right knee. Coach Robert Saleh insisted that game isn't reflective of the progress his quarterback has demonstrated on the practice field.

Rest assured, Wilson's end-of-season evaluation will be based on game performance, not his practice exploits. This is a prove-it year for Wilson, who figures to be rusty when he gets back into the lineup. When will that be? Saleh hasn't ruled him out for Week 1, saying the return-to-play protocol is structured for him to play in a game after only one week of full practice. He's 19 days removed from arthroscopic surgery.

Once again, Aikman can relate. The new color analyst for ESPN's Monday Night Football dealt with knee surgery during his Hall of Fame career.

"You're able to manage it a little bit better than other positions, but it's still getting comfortable with people around your leg," he said. "I expect he'll come off of that and, once he slowly gets his trust back, he'll be fine."

2. Less green: The major takeaway from the 53-man roster is the Jets are an older team than a year ago.

The average age is 26.1, compared with 25.1 at the start of 2021. ("Ridiculously young" was how Saleh described last year's team.) They have nine rookies, down from 12. They have 16 players with less than two years' experience, down from 21.

Part of this could be attributed to natural evolution in roster building. General manager Joe Douglas called it "a pretty cool group of youth and experience." With a more mature team, there should be fewer swings of wild inconsistency, which plagued last season's squad.

3. A survivor: The longest-tenured player on the Jets is long-snapper Thomas Hennessy, who arrived in 2017. He's only 28 years old. Think about that for a second.

4. No more Skittles: Wide receiver Corey Davis didn't generate much publicity, but he quietly put together a strong training camp after reporting at 205 pounds -- 10 pounds less than last year and his lightest weight since his rookie season with the Tennessee Titans (2017). He felt quicker and didn't miss a practice, fueling his optimism for a rebound year after an injury-plagued 2021.

The key to his weight loss? A strict diet that included the elimination of candy. Davis has (or had) a soft spot for Skittles and fruit snacks. A lot of us can relate to that.

"I shed a lot of weight, weight that obviously needed to be gone," he said.

Davis tried to play through a core-muscle injury last season, but there was so much pain that he couldn't lift his leg. Eventually, he had surgery and wound up missing eight games.

5. Adams apple (of their eye): Saleh has conducted 27 news conferences since the start of training camp in late July, and the name of rookie safety Tony Adams didn't come up until this week. Reporters didn't ask about him during camp and Saleh, not wanting to tip off other teams, wasn't about to volunteer an opinion.

The sleeper of all sleepers, Adams made the roster as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois. Now, of course, they're gushing about him. Quick story from Saleh: During a pre-draft Zoom interview with the Jets, Adams was asked what he wants to get out of the NFL. His reply:

"I want to take someone's job."

And he did.

6. Mismatch? One concern about the roster composition is the lack of size at safety/nickel, with Jordan Whitehead (5-foot-10), Lamarcus Joyner (5-8) and Michael Carter II (5-10). It's one of the reasons the Jets decided to cut nickelback Javelin Guidry (5-9). This could be a problem against teams that rely on big tight ends in the passing game. It starts in Week 1 with the Baltimore Ravens. See: Mark Andrews (6-foot-5).

7. Tough goodbyes: Seven of the 21 players waived by the Jets on the final roster cut-down day were claimed by other teams -- a league high (by a lot). The Buffalo Bills had the second most with four players, which shouldn't surprise anyone because they have a playoff roster.

This illustrates how the bottom of the Jets' roster, once a breeding ground for players with marginal NFL talent, has improved to the point where their castoffs are being scooped up by other teams. Tight end Trevon Wesco was the most popular player on the waiver wire, as four teams submitted claims. He wound up with the Chicago Bears.

The Jets opted for developmental tight end Lawrence Cager, a former wide receiver, over the sturdy-blocking Wesco -- a surprise move. Evidently, other teams also were surprised when he became available.

8. Long road back: Tackle Mekhi Becton underwent knee surgery recently in Los Angeles, performed by Neal ElAttrache, the same doctor who did Wilson's scope. Becton, doing his early rehab in L.A., will eventually return to the team. He's out for the season, but doctors "feel good about his long-term ability to play football," Douglas said. Becton is under contract through 2023, but that doesn't guarantee him a starting job or even a roster spot.

9. Did you know? Joe Flacco has beaten 30 of the league's teams as a starting quarterback, the exception being the Ravens (his first team) and the Seattle Seahawks. He will get a shot at the Ravens in Week 1 if Wilson isn't ready. Eight quarterbacks in history have defeated 31 or more teams, only two of whom are active: Tom Brady (32) and Aaron Rodgers (31).

10. Hello, again: Reporters were allowed in the locker room last week for the first time since the end of the 2019 season, pre-pandemic. It's a new experience for the younger players, who went from closed locker rooms in college to Zoom news conferences in the NFL, but they're handling it like seasoned pros (based on a small sample size).

Two new additions to the locker room that we didn't see during the Adam Gase era: a chessboard and cornhole set.