FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Zach Wilson is back under center for the New York Jets this week.
Coach Robert Saleh announced Friday that Wilson will start at quarterback Sunday against the Detroit Lions after Mike White was not cleared by doctors to play with a rib injury.
White started the last three games, but was twice knocked out of the Jets’ 20-12 loss at Buffalo last Sunday. X-rays at the stadium were clear and he finished the game, but CT scans at a hospital revealed a fracture to his ribs on his right side.
“A couple in a row,” White said, “that makes that area just kind of really vulnerable.”
White was cleared to practice and said throughout the week he had no doubt he would start Sunday, but Saleh said Friday that team doctors wouldn’t clear him for contact. White added that doctors told him if he got hit “in the right spot,” it could lead to further damage.
“Mike White is an absolute warrior and has been doing everything he could this week to find another opinion to get him onto the football field, to find somebody who would clear him for contact,” Saleh said.
White acknowledged he spoke to nearly 10 doctors to see if he could find one that would give him the OK to play.
“And they just won’t,” White said. “And I completely understand why, but I’m always going to try to fight like hell to be out on the field with my guys. So, it’s frustrating, but it’s kind of part of football, part of life that you’ve got to deal with.”
So instead of starting for the Jets (7-6) who are trying to keep pace in the AFC playoff hunt, White will merely be a spectator.
“It’s one of those things where we’ve got to do what’s best for the player,” Saleh said. “And we’ve got to protect the player from the player.”
Saleh said the Jets will re-evaluate White’s injury Monday, but acknowledged it will be a short turnaround with New York hosting Jacksonville next Thursday night.
Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick last year, was benched last month to focus on improving his mental approach and mechanics. The Jets elevated him earlier this week from No. 3 behind White and Joe Flacco to No. 2.
“I was excited,” Wilson said of getting the news Friday he would start. “It’s a cool opportunity.”
Wilson missed the first three games of this season while recovering from a knee injury, with Flacco starting in his place. Wilson started the next seven and the Jets went 5-2 in those games, but his play was mostly shaky. He had four touchdown passes and five interceptions and had a 55.6 completion percentage as New York’s offense struggled to produce points.
After Wilson went just 9 of 22 for 77 yards in a 10-3 loss at New England in Week 11, the Jets elevated White to starter.
Meanwhile, Wilson was inactive the last three games, and not even dressed in uniform on the sideline.
“This is going to be a great opportunity for Zach,” Saleh said. “When he was elevated to the No. 2 quarterback, it was with the understanding there’s a strong possibility he was going to play and to prepare accordingly.”
Added Wilson: “I’m ready to go, man. I feel like these past three weeks or whatever, I’ve been just trying to keep improving and getting better and taking each day with the mentality as if I was playing.”
Wilson rubbed some within the organization the wrong way after the loss to the Patriots when he said he didn’t feel as though he let the defense down despite his poor play. Wilson apologized to his teammates a few days later, but there was a perception that perhaps he had lost some support in the locker room.
“I think our guys trust him,” Saleh said. “I feel like he’s had a really good week of practice.”
Wilson said he wanted his benching to be “a reset,” a time to get better on and off the field — and recapture his love for the game.
“The mindset’s got to be I’ve got to do the best I can every single play,” Wilson said. “I’m not going to go out there with any expectations of whatever. It’s got to be, what’s the best decision I can make, let me go out there play, have fun and be grateful to be on this field.”
NOTES: WR Corey Davis was ruled out for the game while remaining in concussion protocol. … Saleh said the Jets are “hopeful” DT Quinnen Williams (calf) will play. “He is still going to be 50/50,” the coach said, “but D-linemen don’t need to practice to be ready for game day.” … CB Brandin Echols will sit out with a quadriceps injury.
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Dennis Waszak Jr., The Associated Press