2018 NFL Training Camps: Jets will be Sam Darnold's team very soon and everyone knows it
The rookie QB continues to impress, the dirt on all the scuffles and more notes from Redskins/Jets camp
RICHMOND, Va. – When the rain wasn't pouring and the lightning wasn't striking close to the Redskins' training-camp fields, and when the joint practices between the hosts and the visiting New York Jets weren't being interrupted by fisticuffs and scuffles, Sam Darnold got plenty of work in.
The Jets' rookie quarterback, the third-overall pick, is clearly being primed for a big role likely sooner rather than later, and he had no shortage of reps with the starters during Sunday's spirited sessions. Darnold looked the part for the most part in his exhibition debut last week and it was him under center late Sunday afternoon, leading the Jets' starting offense in live 11-on-11 drills when the weather finally forced the cancellation of the scrimmage about 15 minutes early. For Darnold, who is chasing journeyman caretaker Josh McCown and young veteran Teddy Bridgewater for the starting gig, every snap matters, so even losing a few to the downpour was less than ideal.
"Sam is the one who has to catch up," said head coach Todd Bowles, who refuses to commit to a rotation of division of reps for the next preseason game on Thursday but concedes he has seen enough of McCown and Bridgewater in the past to have a comfort level with their ability to run his offense. It's clear Bowles doesn't want to inflate any egos or give off the perception that Darnold will be given anything despite how high he was drafted. He will remain a stickler as this competition unfolds and wants Darnold to earn his way up the depth chart.
"The good throws you can see, but just the overall game operation," said Bowles, who noted how quickly and seamlessly he thinks the offense should move at this level. "As he plays he gets experience, and that's to be expected. So we're happy with what we saw, and he got some things to build on."
Still, it's impossible to be around this team for any period of time and not see some of the natural ability the young man possesses, and of the five passers taken in the first round he clearly seems to be the one with the most realistic chance of perhaps starting by Week 1. It isn't flawless by any means – he missed some throws against air in individual drills on back shoulder fades and had his share of misfires – but he also isn't overwhelmed by any degree and he uncorked more than enough perfect riffle passes to the sidelines to get the attention of everyone on the field.
It's not going to be that long before this is his football team, and everyone around here seems to know it. McCown, who has seen it all during his long career and watched plenty of highly-drafted quarterbacks both flourish and perish, speaks glowingly of his understudy, with the vernacular of an aging Hollywood star who knows he'll soon make way for a matinee idol.
"I'm here to play, and it's fun to play," McCown said. "But at the same time, just like last year, I understand that evaluations have to take place, and I've been doing this a while, and I obviously played a number of games for them last year. So, I think they've got a pretty good handle on who I am as a player. So whatever they decide, I understand."
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McCown, who played at a Pro Bowl level in 2017 in helping the Jets overachieve prior to being lost to a season-ending injury, has contemplated his future, and wants to be in New York as a mentor, sounding board and advocate for Darnold if he does lose his job to the rookie. "I love being a part of the New York Jets, and I just want to see this team do well, and see this quarterback room do well," he said.
McCown is about as sharp as they come, and a straight-shooter. He isn't one for false platitudes and he's seen plenty of kids come and go. When I asked him for a primer on Darnold, the response was fairly telling.
"Everything we've asked him to do, and we could ask him to do as quarterbacks, he goes out and executes," McCown said. "He's had a chance to do that, and he's showed us that he can do that. I think that's critical, and more than anything, he does a really good job of taking the classroom to the grass pretty efficiently. It doesn't take him multiple meetings and walk-throughs and certain things – he's very coachable in that aspect and I think that will serve him well for a long time.
"He's had a heck of a start and a solid game the other night, and so it's just continuing to stack days. But so far everything that you look for to play the position – whether it's just the desire and want-to and all of that that – all of those things are there. And you have to have that in order to have a chance in this league. And so he's doing that and it's one day at a time, but every step and everything he's asked to do he meets that well and goes out and gets that done."
- Sunday's practice was punctuated by at least three altercations, though none of them ended up becoming too extensive. All took place with the Skins offense working against the Jets defense, and Washington offensive lineman Morgan Moses appeared to be in the middle of much of it. Once the fracas spilled well over the sidelines and near the stands where fans were seated and neither team was happy about the outcome. There was a little shouting from players coming off the field. "You've got to be able to control it," Skins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said of the flaring emotions. Skins tight end Jordan Reed conceded that "it does become annoying," when so many scuffles are breaking out and both coaches were clearly frustrated with the outcome. "The intensity is good, but fights are not to be tolerated," Bowles said. "I talked to my guys, and coach (Jay) Gruden talked to his guys, and we'll have better practices tomorrow, because that's just a waste of time." With two more practices to come plus a game on Thursday, this is worth monitoring.
- Both of these teams are beat up. The Jets didn't bring several key veterans on this trip, including left tackle Kelvin Beachum and starting running back Isaiah Crowell. The Skins have already lost three players to season-ending injury not even halfway through the preseason, including second-round pick Derrius Guice, who was set to be a major part of this running and passing game as a running back. Gruden said it was hard not to take the injuries personally on some level and wonders if he was doing something wrong, but noted the freakish nature of several of them as well. "I think there's a fine line," Gruden said. "We still have to practice football, and we still have to get these guys ready to play."
- The Skins may find they have an issue at center, which is a position group I'd have some concern over. Their former center is fitting in nicely with the Jets, however, as Spencer Long looks like a savvy free-agent signing for New York. "He has been awesome for us," McCown said. "Just bringing a veteran presence to that O-line room, and as a player what he can bring to us has been huge. He's been awesome." McCown said Long has already been vital in meetings discussing protections and how to adjust for particular opponents and preparing others to be ready to play. His presence will be massive if a rookie quarterback is under center.
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