FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Todd Bowles chuckled for a moment and then just couldn’t resist the urge to break from his normally low-key, stoic public persona.
The New York Jets coach had just been asked what his initial impressions were of first-round pick Sam Darnold at rookie minicamp Friday – and Bowles went wild. Well, sort of.
”He was great! I want him to play right now!” a smiling Bowles shouted while slamming his left hand on the lectern for emphasis .
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It was stunning. And made a room filled with wide-eyed reporters laugh.
Bowles has never been one to make bold declarations, especially after just one practice. So the coach jokingly mocked the question – while providing a video and sound clip like he never has before.
Then again, Bowles and the Jets are hoping Darnold someday develops into the type of quarterback the likes of which this franchise has rarely, if ever, seen.
”He was good,” Bowles said, still smiling. ”Obviously, we threw the ball around a little bit and he’s going to be getting better.”
Darnold was the No. 3 overall pick in the draft last week , surprisingly ”dropping” into the Jets’ lap after being rumored as a potential top overall selection for several months. Instead, Cleveland went with Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and the Giants took Penn State running back Saquon Barkley at No. 2.
That meant the team that has been craving a franchise quarterback since the glory days of Joe Namath had its guy: the 20-year-old Darnold, a could-be savior from USC who could soon be shouldering the pressure of leading the Jets out of a seven-year playoff drought.
The kid who oozes California cool knows all about it.
”Yeah, I embrace it, but I understand every single day that it’s a process,” Darnold said before his first practice of rookie camp. ”You’ve got to come in here and earn respect. I’m not going to come in here and demand it.”
Darnold is fresh-faced, has a terrific head of reddish-blond hair, and should make for a target of companies looking for celebrity endorsers or magazines searching for a cover-boy athlete. Make no mistake, though, he’s got an unrelenting competitive streak and lives and breathes football.
Just moments after meeting with an overflow crowd of media armed with cameras and lots of questions, Darnold was back at his makeshift stall in the middle of the Jets’ locker room, studying his playbook.
”Just coming in here and understanding the position that I’m in – I’m a rookie,” Darnold said. ”I understand that. But at the same time, I understand that I’m a quarterback and that I’ve got to be a leader on the field and off it, as well.”
Darnold will have a chance to win the starting job this summer. His main competition, of course, will be Josh McCown, the soon-to-be 39-year-old veteran who was the starter for most of last season.
The Jets also have Teddy Bridgewater, still working his way back from a serious knee injury nearly two years ago, and Christian Hackenberg, a second-rounder in 2016 who has yet to see the field in a regular-season game.
”We’re giving him every chance,” Bowles said of Darnold. ”He’s going to learn it as he goes. He might get the (first-team) reps as he goes, but we’ll make that determination through preseason and see where we are at the end of it. But we’re not holding him back.
”We’re not rushing him, at the same time, but we’re not holding him back at all.”
Darnold was given a small chunk of the playbook to run through during rookie camp, with the team keeping things relatively simple to start.
There were some ups – a few beautifully placed long throws – and some downs – two botched snaps and an interception on a tipped pass – while getting in his first on-field practice since late December.
”It’s a combination of being nervous,” Darnold said, ”but at the same time, I think it’s more relief than anything just because I haven’t been with a team, I haven’t been inside the pocket for a long time.”
While Bowles’ response to what he saw from Darnold was intentionally over the top, there’s no doubt many Jets fans hope the rookie is under center in Week 1 – and for years to come.
Until then, though, Darnold is going about his business the only way he knows how.
”Consistency, I think is the biggest thing,” Darnold said. ”I’m just going to come in here and be consistent every single day. Do what I need to do: lift, eat right, get with coach (Jeremy) Bates, get with Josh and Teddy, learn everything that is installed that day. Just go about it, it’s a daily process that I go through. If I treat every single day like it’s the most important day, I think that’s really where my success comes from.”
NOTES: The Jets waived RB Akeem Judd. … The team announced it signed RB Trenton Cannon, a sixth-round draft pick out of Virginia State. … New York signed seven undrafted free agents: Oklahoma FB Dimitri Flowers, Auburn OL Austin Golson, Jacksonville State CB Reggie Hall, Columbia DL Lord Hyeamang, Auburn OL Darius James, University of British Columbia G Dakoda Shepley, and Texas Tech DL Mychealon Thomas.
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