Jets coach Todd Bowles won't commit to a starting QB, but it appears it could be Sam Darnold's to lose

RICHMOND, Va. -- I unloaded every trick I had. I played a few word games. I tried everything I could think of to try to goad Todd Bowles into committing to rookie Sam Darnold as his starting quarterback for at least Thursday's exhibition with the Washington Redskins. And I came up short.

Bowles put up with my attempts in a good-natured fashion, but refuses to waver from the mantra that he repeats seemingly daily with the New York media: "All three of our quarterbacks need to be ready to play." And expect that to be the case throughout the summer, although, having spent several days around this team now, watching every throw and chatting up people throughout the organization there is no much mystery here in all actuality: As long as Darnold keeps doing what he has been doing, he is in line to start all 16 games.

I am convinced that barring him falling flat in the next three preseason games -- and I wouldn't bank on that at this point -- Darnold has displayed enough in the meeting rooms and on the field and in the huddle and everywhere else to convince the Jets he is the man for the job and his on-the-job training should begin in Week 1. No one is going to come out and say it, publicly, but that's what everyone is thinking and whispering. In the meantime, Bowles will do his part to manage the situation and keep the rookie guessing.

"He's still learning and he's still progressing," Bowles said. "It's only his second week of training camp and he's learning and applying everything from the classroom and taking it to the field right now. So we're happy with where he is."

The Jets, I firmly believe, have the best quarterback room in the NFL, and a luxury of riches at that position. They have three starting caliber quarterbacks, all of whom continue to shine in these practices against the Redskins, and when you factor in how well Josh McCown played in 2017 prior to injury, and how well Teddy Bridgewater has responded to his devastating injuries, and all of Darnold's promise, I could make the argument that they have three of the top 35 quarterbacks on the planet.

Bowles, not one to mince words and toss platitudes, nearly gushed over Bridgewater when I asked about him following Monday's practice. "Teddy has been great," Bowles said. "Teddy has been great all the way around -- mentally, physically. Just a lift to the team; uplifting the guys and understanding everything, and we're happy to have him."

I can't fathom a scenario, barring injury, where all three of these passers are on the roster come September. Much has been made about possibly trading Bridgewater, and for understandable reasons, but a deal for McCown may actually be more likely. It would take a haul to pry Bridgewater away, while McCown's superior experience would be exactly what a contending team would covet. (Having watched the Rams all of last week, they should have the Jets on speed-dial to upgrade over Sean Mannion). It's only a matter of time before some other quality team loses a starting or top back-up quarterback to injury -- sadly it's inevitable -- and the Jets will have plenty to sort through, I contend. I'd bank on them dealing a QB.

Observations

  • Both teams took heed to the chiding they received from their coaches after a brawl-filled Sunday practice, and there were no incidents on Monday. Washington coach Jay Gruden said he would have considered suspending any player who fought on Monday. "It's on me," Gruden said of Monday's scuffles. "I've got to do a better job." Bowles said: "The way football is supposed to be played -- that's how we practiced on both sides today." The fighting stemmed from Skins players believing Rams corner Trumaine Johnson took aim at the oft-injured ankles of guard Morgan Moses in outside zone run drills on Sunday. The Jets felt like Johnson intended to engage up high and had virtually no idea about Moses' injury history given how infrequently these teams play. Regardless, everything seemed squashed on Monday.
  • Terrelle Pryor is still recovering from an offseason ankle injury and isn't 100 percent, but he is flashing some elite playmaking ability again after a lost season in Washington in 2017. Gruden said he didn't think Pryor could ever run like himself last season, but he ran past the defensive backs a few times Monday to grab long passes. "I feel good, it's getting there," Pryor said, noting he needs to improve his conditioning with so much missed time. He might not play much in the preseason but this is gonna be a better receiving group than a lot of people may think.
  • Alex Smith has fit in seamlessly with the Redskins and is clearly the face of their offense. They are running a litany of young receivers with the ones and Smith is already very comfortable with this offense despite just getting here in the spring. "We've gotten great work the last two days; this has been invaluable for us, these joint practices," Smith told me. "I think we've got a great group, and a lot of depth at all of our skill positions."
  • Even now almost a week alter tearing his ACL, the loss of second-round pick Derrius Guice is still hanging over the Skins. It's a fairly devastating loss given what he had been flashing. "It's a bummer for him and for the team," Smith said. "I was trying to quiet my own hopes, but I certainly had high hopes for him. He was a big-time talent and obviously still had a huge future ahead of him." Smith said he loves the array of talent behind him; remains to be seen if there is a feature back among them, however.
  • Jets have made major upgrades throughout the roster and are going to be a very solid team in 2018, I believe, poised to make noise in 2019 (when the Patriots' dynasty has to slow down, right?). But they are sorely lacking impact players on the edge. "We're mixing and matching," Bowles said of a pass rush that will have to be concocted via scheme and deception. They sprinkle a few natural pass rushers to this mix through trade, free agency and the draft and they'll be dangerous. Khalil Mack would look damn good here, that's all I'm sayin, with no end in sight to his holdout in Oakland.
  • An officiating crew was in Richmond Monday to meet with players and coaches about rule changes and points of emphasis, and as you would expect the new targeting helmet rule was a major topic of consternation. Even after the orientation by the officials, Gruden is unsure if "bang-bang" plays will be officiated the same all the way around. "There are still some gray areas I am concerned about as a coach," Gruden said, hoping Sundays don't become "a flag fest." As someone who has seen this presentation from officials several times now, I can assure you Gruden is hardly alone.
CBS Sports Insider

Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday... Full Bio

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