Jets have to ride with Mike White as long as he plays well

What is Mike White’s upside?

“Who knows?” Jeff Ulbrich said.

Ulbrich, the Jets’ defensive coordinator, has nearly two decades of NFL experience as a coach and player behind him, yet he doesn’t have a good handle on what his team’s new starting quarterback can become. Head coach Robert Saleh doesn’t know either, a truth he made clear when he said, hypothetically, “I could be the next Vince Lombardi.”

Saleh has it right. Though he might ultimately win five championships, as Lombardi did with Green Bay, Saleh should rest easy knowing that the average Jets fan doesn’t need him to win enough rings so he or she can have one for the thumb.

The fan simply wants Saleh as the next Weeb Embank. Thank you so much for one magical Super Bowl Sunday.

Saleh must now find out which player gives him the greatest chance of moving the Jets towards their first championship since January 1969. Smart money continues to believe Zach Wilson is the No. The smart money still believes that Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall draft pick, will become a much better player than White (by Dallas), at the 2017 draft. However, over time the NFL has seen the smart money look pretty stupid.

Mike White
Mike White
Getty Images

There have been many stories throughout sports history about longshot athletes getting unexpected breaks, seizing opportunities, and making a difference in their leagues and teams. That doesn’t mean Mike White will join that group. In fact, there’s probably a better chance that he will never win a playoff game than there is of him winning a Super Bowl.

The Jets must give White an opportunity to prove he’s not a temporary sensation, or the next Kurt Warner. They shouldn’t automatically bench White if he doesn’t beat Buffalo’s league-best defense Sunday at MetLife.

White performed admirably in relief for New England under difficult circumstances. He was the NFL’s best player the following week against Cincinnati in his first career start, inspiring the home crowd to chant his name. He looked like he was ready to take on the Colts, but he suffered a blow to the throwing arm. This put an end to the spectacle.

White’s arm feels better now than Wilson’s injured knee does, so that’s one reason why the 26-year-old backup from Western Kentucky is running the first-string offense this week while the 22-year-old bonus baby from BYU is simulating Josh Allen against the first-string defense.

Why not? Saleh has smartly decided against raining on the fan base’s parade (since that fan base never gets to savor an actual parade). White is a feel-good story, and the paying customers aren’t the only ones responding to him. On Thursday, White revealed to his teammates that they still sing his name as he enters his locker room. “It’s kind of crazy,” he said of being the improbable toast of the town.

Only it’s not that crazy. Asked if he believes he can become one of the NFL’s better starting quarterbacks, White responded, “Yes. I definitely believe that.” He qualified it by saying that every quarterback needs to have extreme self-confidence to thrive, but make no mistake: White thinks he can beat out Wilson over the long haul and emerge as the Jets’ starter. It’s not worth saying this with Buffalo being such an intimidating short-term challenge and Wilson being as kind and supportive of his teammate as possible.

White is an experienced golfer and his confidence is his greatest asset. When a reporter wondered why he had been an “under the radar” prospect coming out of college, White couldn’t explain it. “If you ask me,” he said, “I should’ve been a first-overall pick.” Again, this from the man competing against a second-overall pick.

Ulbrich, the defensive coordinator, is a big fan of Wilson’s, and yet his eyes lit up Thursday when he was asked about White’s ability and potential.

“Mike has that moxie, that confidence, that swag that’s just uncoachable,” he said. “He just has it. … It’s translated to Sundays.

“He’s one of those guys who’s just good at everything he does. I don’t think these last couple of games have been a fluke. … I think that he’s a skilled player that’s got some special qualities to him, and it will be exciting to see what he can become the more opportunities that he gets.”

So if White plays a good game against the Bills — win, lose, or draw — he should earn another start against Miami no matter how Wilson’s knee feels. White’s game should continue until Wilson leaves the field.

White could be the team’s first-string quarterback the rest year.

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