Friday, May 4, 2018

The first signs Sam Darnold can shoulder decades of Jets pain

On the first day of the rest of Sam Darnold’s NFL life, he stood around the corner from his locker and confronted a question that all the Jets quarterbacks after Joe Namath have had to confront:
Do you embrace the challenge of leading a franchise that hasn’t won a championship in (fill in the blank) years? For young, bright-eyed Darnold, it is 49 years.
“I embrace it,” he began, “but I understand every single day that it’s a process. You gotta come in here and earn respect. I’m not gonna come in here and demand it. I’m a rookie, I understand that, but at the same time I know that I’m a quarterback and that I gotta be a leader on the field, and off it as well.”

He was as relaxed and poised as advertised, more comfortable in his own skin than most 20-year-olds asked to be a Savior.
“If I treat every single day like it’s the most important day, I think that’s really gonna be where my success comes from,” Darnold said.
Namath and Richard Todd and Ken O’Brien and Chad Pennington never had to deal with the social media onslaught the way Darnold will, but so far so good. He smiled when asked about his early interaction with Jets fans.
“A lot of followers,” Darnold said. “It’s just really cool how excited they are about me being here. It’s really awesome to have that feeling that you feel wanted. But at the same time, whether I’m wanted or not, I’m just gonna come in here and do my thing.”
This was a day to daydream.
An overcast May afternoon, the sun trying to peak through, greeting this red-haired object of a long-suffering franchise’s affection, a veritable babe in the woods who is half Tom Brady’s age, resplendent in a red No. 14 jersey he will be wearing long after Brady and Bill Belichick are gone.
On days like this, it is a rite of spring for a tortured fan base to gaze at The Chosen One as a towering symbol of hope who will scoff at an oft-buttfumbled past and unblinkingly envision that elusive Super Bowl in the not-too-distant future.
If Sam Darnold is made of the right stuff — and only Broadway Joe Namath can guarantee it — then this could be the right place and the right time for the kid to chase history and exorcise the taunting green-and-white demons.
An AFC East rid of The Wrath of Belichick, perhaps by the 2019 season, and Brady, perhaps by the 2020 season, would leave the door open for Darnold to break the Patriots’ stranglehold on the division, if not revel in the Death of the Evil Empire Dynasty.
In the meantime, however, reality beckons.
As much as the Jets and Jets fans will be champing at the bit for the Darnold Era to begin, unless he makes an overwhelming case in preseason that The Future Is Now, it wouldn’t be such a terrible thing for him to sit and watch mentor Josh McCown at the beginning of a season that features a “Monday Night Football” opener and three road games.
Resist any urge to throw him to the wolves unless it is obvious to everyone that it would be foolish to impede his progress on the sideline. The good news is this is a gym rat who will never leave OC Jeremy Bates’ side when he is in the building.
“If they want me to start, great. If they don’t, great,” Darnold said. “I’m just gonna be the best that I can be.”
Darnold will enjoy the same good fortune learning how to be a professional from McCown that Eli Manning enjoyed under Kurt Warner, that Davis Webb enjoyed last season under Manning.

At least everyone can be certain that Darnold is more precocious than Christian Hackenberg ever was when he showed up with a deer-in-the-headlights look two springs ago.
There will come a time when Darnold will make everyone around him better, but until then, it is GM Mike Maccagnan’s job to make sure that everyone around the quarterback will be better, and that includes the supporting cast blocking for him, catching for him and running for him. Because Darnold will not have the kind of team that Mark Sanchez had around him as a rookie.
But that’s for another day.
This was only the first day of the rest of Sam Darnold’s NFL life, and it was good to be him, and good to be a Jets fan.