Sam Darnold is wrapping up his rookie season with glimpses of greatness.
First, Aaron Rodgers.
Next, Tom Brady.
The New York Jets quarterback’s final two opponents are among the best to play the position, and Darnold appreciates the situation he’s in.
After a solid performance last week in an overtime loss to Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, Darnold will head to New England to face Brady and the playoff-bound Patriots on Sunday.
“Yeah, there’s always something there whenever you’re playing Brady, guys like Rodgers and everything like that,” Darnold said. “For me, I grew up watching those two play and dominate, so at the same time, I’m not just going to ignore the fact that I’m playing those guys. I know that I am and I want to step up, but at the same time, every single game, that’s my mentality.”
It has been an up-and-down first season for the No. 3 overall draft pick. But the arrow has been pointing up the past three weeks.
Since returning from a foot injury that sidelined him for three games, Darnold has been one of the NFL’s most efficient quarterbacks. He’s 64 of 97 (66 percent) for 764 yards and six TDs with just one INT in his past three outings.
“I think he plays one play at a time,” offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said. “I think he’s good from start to finish. The guy doesn’t change, (he’s) by no means a roller coaster. He doesn’t get up at certain moments. He takes every play like it’s the most important play. If it’s a handoff in the run game or a pass, I just think he’s steady and when the big plays present themselves, he’s able to hit them.”
Perhaps the most glaring improvement in recent weeks has been his ability to successfully operate the play-action game after primarily running a shotgun-style in college at USC.
That has added an exciting new element to Darnold’s game, and one that Bates believes the young QB will continue to improve upon.
“When you’re in shotgun, you’re watching the defense, you’re seeing the looks and for a split-second you’re taking your eyes off and it’s a complete 180,” Bates said. “I think you’ve just got to get used to it. You have to be able to flip your eyes and recognize if it’s (Cover) 2 or if it’s (Cover) 3 and Sam is getting faster, he’s recognizing the coverages as soon as he flips.”
Darnold acknowledged it took him some time to adjust to running some play-action, and thinks he has noticeably improved.
“But I think it’s also a credit to our offensive line, our running backs and our receivers really in the run game,” he said. “Being able to set up the pass with the run is the biggest thing in that area and I think we’ve been doing a good job at that.”
That’s the type of thing that has made the Jets and their fans so optimistic despite the team’s dismal 4-11 record.
Darnold was drafted to be a potential franchise-type quarterback, and he has shown signs of building toward that after a miserable midseason stretch just before he was sidelined. No longer does he appear as tentative during plays or have “happy feet” when facing pressure.
The California kid is cool and confident, and that’s certainly a building block for next season and beyond.
“I’m going to keep stacking wins as long as I can keep trying to continue to build and continue to grow as a player, continue to try to be as consistent as possible playing this position,” Darnold said.
“That’s what you want as a player, as a coach, as well. You just want your quarterback to be the most consistent player on the field and that’s what I try to strive to be every single week.”
Darnold has attributed much of his recent success to watching veteran Josh McCown’s preparation while he was sidelined. The 21-year-old youngster studied how the 39-year-old veteran went about his business leading into games.
Darnold also spoke last week about how he often viewed film of Rodgers and the Packers while in high school and college, and Brady’s work was also constantly in his rotation.
And, after Sunday, Darnold will be able to put up his own film — with Rodgers and Brady as his opponents — in the offseason.
“You want to look at it and be like, ‘Aw, man, you know, I’m just going to go out there and do what I do,'” he said. “But at the same time, you want to play well when you’re going up against those guys. Not that I don’t want to play well when I’m going up against those guys, but there is a little something extra there.”
NOTES: K Jason Myers (left hip), CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder/ankle), LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (shoulder) and WRs Quincy Enunwa (ankle) and Jermaine Kearse (Achilles tendon) didn’t practice. Coach Todd Bowles said the Jets have worked out kickers in case Myers can’t go. … CB Trumaine Johnson was back at practice after being held out Wednesday for what Bowles called “an in-house matter.” … LB Jordan Jenkins (ankle) was limited.
Source: The Associated Press