With a choice between White and highly touted rookie Zach Wilson, who is returning from a knee injury, coach Robert Saleh announced Wednesday that White will start against the Buffalo Bills. He also cited Wilson’s injury as a factor, noting the second overall pick is “not fully ready to go.”
The first-year coach declined to say the struggling Wilson will return to the starting role when fully healthy and said he will let the quarterback situation unfold “organically.”
“If Mike is playing phenomenal football, it is what it is,” Saleh said. “You might call it a controversy or not. I can pull up an article from every single one of you guys that has mentioned that the best thing for a young quarterback is to watch, so there’s no harm in either way.
“We have the utmost confidence in Zach. When he gets back on the football field and he’s ready to play, he’s going to do a phenomenal job. His talent is undeniable. There’s a great amount of growth that can happen whether he’s playing or not. Those are facts. Those are history-proven throughout the history of time. Playing or not playing, you can get both done.”
Saleh reversed field. On Monday, he indicated Wilson “for sure” would start as soon as he got healthy. Now he’s taking a week-to-week approach.
White, who electrified the offense in two starts as an injury replacement, practiced Wednesday despite a right forearm injury from Thursday night. Wilson returned to practice for the first time since spraining his right PCL on Oct. 24 against the New England Patriots — a two- to four-week injury, according to the team.
The Jets have four healthy quarterbacks, including Joe Flacco and Josh Johnson, who reverted to the practice squad after playing well in a mop-up role in the 45-30 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Flacco, acquired in an Oct. 25 trade, will be the backup on Sunday, Saleh said. The Jets used their allotment of practice-squad elevations for Johnson, meaning the only way to add him to the 53-man roster would be to sign him to the active roster — and that would give them four quarterbacks on the 53.
None of the quarterbacks were available to the media. They typically speak on Thursday.
Wilson’s development is paramount for the franchise, which drafted him second overall, but Saleh is taking a conservative approach with regard to Wilson’s injury. White’s unexpectedly sharp play allows him that luxury.
Saleh called White “a quarterback who is giving you a clear blueprint on how this offense is supposed to run.” The former practice-squad quarterback, in his first NFL start, passed for 405 yards and set a league record for completions (37) by a first-time starter, lifting the Jets to a come-from-behind upset over the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 31.
With Wilson still recovering, White got another start Thursday night, but he lasted only one quarter. He banged his forearm on a defender and left the game after throwing a touchdown to rookie Elijah Moore. He never returned, unable to grip the ball thanks to numbness in two fingers. He finished 7-for-11 with 95 yards and one touchdown.
White has regained full strength in his forearm with no residual effects, Saleh said.
Asked whether things could get “weird” if White plays well against the Bills, who have the NFL’s top-ranked defense, Saleh said: “If Mike does phenomenal, like we think he’s going to do, that’s not weird. It’s awesome. Quarterback is a precious commodity in this league, and we feel like we’ve got four really good ones.”
Wilson, handed the starting job with no competition in the preseason, has lost five of six starts. He has completed only 57.5% of his passes, with four touchdowns and nine interceptions. His Total QBR is 28.0, which ranks 32nd out of 33 qualifying passers. The only quarterback with a lower QBR is Chicago Bears rookie Justin Fields (27.4).
The offense, historically poor in the first six games, started clicking as soon as White entered the lineup, and it continued with Johnson. The Jets have scored 64 points in the past two games; they had only 80 points in the first six.