FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — After sitting out the first three games due to a preseason knee injury, quarterback Zach Wilson has been medically cleared and will start Sunday for the New York Jets, coach Robert Saleh announced Wednesday.
Wilson, who practiced on a limited basis the past two weeks, is expected to take a full load of practice reps as he ramps up for his return — a road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Saleh was optimistic this would be the outcome, pending a confirmation from Wilson’s Los Angeles-based doctor.
Saleh said Wilson will “absolutely” start, assuming he makes it through the week of practice.
“He’s very comfortable,” Saleh said. “He’s in a great mental state. Everyone is comfortable with where he’s at physically.”
The former BYU star, drafted second overall in 2021, tore his meniscus and suffered a bone bruise on a noncontact play in the first preseason game. On Aug. 16, he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in Los Angeles, performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache.
Initially, it was deemed a two- to four-week recovery, but the Jets announced Sept. 7 — four days before the opener — that Wilson would return Week 4 at the earliest.
The Jets went 1-2 during Wilson’s absence, with Joe Flacco leading them to a stunning comeback victory over the Cleveland Browns in Week 2. Flacco is fifth in passing yards (901), but he has led the offense to only five touchdowns in three games, including two in the final 1:22 of the Cleveland miracle.
“It’s exciting to get him back out there,” Saleh said. “But at the same time, it’s not all about Zach. It’s making sure we’re executing on all cylinders.”
Wilson returns to a unit that has struggled to protect the passer — allowing nine sacks. Left tackle George Fant (knee) was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, meaning career backup Conor McDermott likely will get the nod in his place. McDermott, re-signed after being cut at the end of the preseason, struggled mightily in last week’s 27-12 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Saleh said the unsettled situation at tackle didn’t cause any hesitation in returning to Wilson.
“His knee is 100%,” Saleh said. “As far as the tackles are concerned, we’ve got all the faith in the world in the guys we do have. Max (Mitchell) is playing really well and McDermott has played a lot of good football.”
The Jets face a Pittsburgh defense known for its exotic pressure packages, but it hasn’t been the same without elite pass-rusher T.J. Watt (torn pectoral muscle), who was placed on IR Sept. 15. The Steelers are 0-6 without Watt, dating to his rookie season in 2017.