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July 28, 2021

Patrick Kinahan: Wilson’s struggles at BYU pave way for potential NFL success

SALT LAKE CITY — An uneven sophomore season that included three turnovers in a bowl loss and a thumb injury that caused him to miss several games were exactly the struggles Zach Wilson needed to progress in his football career.

Don’t believe it? One quarterback guru begs to differ.

“You want to experience the ups and downs,” said John Beck, the former BYU star quarterback who is now a noted trainer at the position.

Wilson enjoyed a plethora of what Beck describes as ups at quarterback this past season in leading BYU to an 11-1 season. The good times continued during a scintillating performance before NFL scouts last month that has helped him to be the presumptive second pick during the three-day draft that begins Thursday.

Beck knows all about those ups and downs, having experienced both aspects in college and the NFL. He played during two of BYU’s three consecutive losing seasons before dominating as a senior on an 11-2 team in 2006.

Now age 39, he was drafted in the second round by the Miami Dolphins with the intent to eventually succeed incumbent starter Trent Green. But an injury to Green and other circumstances forced Beck to start five games on a 1-15 team.

“I can remember feeling just like dumped on my head,” Beck said during an interview on The Zone Sports Network.

By 2009, after coaching and front-office changes, the Dolphins released Beck. He hooked on with three other teams but was out of the league in 2012.

Relatively speaking, Wilson and Beck shared similar experiences in college. At this time one year ago, after an inconsistent sophomore season, Wilson was battling with two teammates to become the starting quarterback.

Even then, Beck knew his student had pro potential and the proper mental approach. And all those things made him stronger and served as preparation for the NFL.

“You want to have to go through those ups and downs before you get there,” Beck said. “Otherwise, it’s a swift kick to the groin as hard as can be and you’re on your knees barely breathing.”

Minutes after the Jacksonville Jaguars and rookie NFL coach Urban Meyer draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the pick, Wilson is expected to stride across the stage in Cleveland while wearing a New York Jets cap and his usual million-dollar smile. The moment will signify the beginning of a professional career that offers plenty of promise and intrigue.

Wilson will join an organization that has been in disarray the last several seasons and perpetually in search of a franchise quarterback. Since 2007, no quarterback has started more than three consecutive seasons for the Jets.

Sam Darnold, the third pick in 2018, was the latest phenom supposed to stabilize the position. But the former USC quarterback was traded to the Carolina Panthers after a 2-14 season last year, paving the way for Wilson’s arrival.

He will be among a host of new faces in New Jersey, where the Jets actually practice and play home games.

Robert Saleh, formerly the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator, will begin his first season as a head coach at any level. He brought along Mike LaFleur, who was the 49ers passing game coordinator, to run the offense.

LaFleur, who turns 34 this season, is the brother of Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who worked as a graduate assistant with Saleh at Central Michigan. Saleh was the best man at Matt LaFleur’s wedding.

Their professional fate, at least in the short term, likely will rest on Wilson’s development. He is one of five quarterbacks, three of whom Beck has trained, expected to go high in the first round.

“All five are going to have way different experiences,” Beck said. “Those experiences are going to either have a positive or negative experience on them. When they experience the things that are going to scar them or have a negative effect, that’s when they really have to work on themselves. They’ve got to hold strong to that belief in themselves.”

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