New York Jets: Sam Darnold and the importance of game reps

Sam Darnold of the New York Jets (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Sam Darnold of the New York Jets (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

The New York Jets are prepping their franchise quarterback for a long future with the team. Here is why it’s important for him to play now.

It’s been quite a long time since the New York Jets have headed towards training camp with such a heralded quarterback. Sam Darnold has the fan base dreaming of Vince Lombardi trophies. All reports out of minicamp indicate that Darnold is improving rapidly and a star in the making. The young man clearly has a bright future ahead.

How do the Jets handle him without setting him up to fail? There are a faction of Jets fans that believe that Darnold needs to sit and learn. Certainly that has been done before around the league and it has worked out. It is a narrative you often hear around young quarterbacks. However, I’ve said before that Sam needs to play immediately. Let’s go a little bit deeper into the reason why.

First and foremost, there are expectations of a top-five pick in the NFL draft. They are picked that high because they are pro-ready, All-Pro potential talents. Going back to 2010 we see quarterbacks picked in the top five that played right away. Sam Bradford (2010), Cam Newton (2011), Andrew Luck (2012), Robert Griffin III (2012), Blake Bortles (2014), Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota (2015) all played immediately. There are plenty more where that came from.

Why? They were top-five picks. The expectation was that they were ready to play, so they played. Their teams and coaches understood the fact that these were supposed to be generational talents. These are players that were brought in to turn their teams around. The only place they were going to do that was on the football field. Holding a clipboard doesn’t do much to change the win-loss record.

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That’s not to say there aren’t things to learn as these players come up to the NFL. One big issue that is reported is the terminology. Each team has its own set of terms to describe the offensive plays. Admittedly, this is an adjustment that quarterbacks need to make.

The terms come up in the classroom. The player gets a playbook. They get to repeat them in their positional meetings. Again they get used on the practice field, and finally in games. They must be used with his teammates.

That can’t be done on the sideline. Watching another quarterback call out terms to the offense is not going to help them learn. The “mentor” quarterback can help the young player on the sideline between drives. Sitting on the sidelines is no substitute for being under center with a defense staring back at you.

Don’t sleep on this concept of the speed of the game. Players talk about it all the time, but what are they talking about? It’s hard to really conceptualize unless you compare what you see in college games to NFL games. Take a look at any college game. The passing windows are huge. The defensive backs just aren’t as quick as the wide receivers.

What about the pass rush? Aside from facing the elite rushers, these quarterbacks have far more time to throw the ball than they do in the NFL. In the NFL last season, time in the pocket for starting quarterbacks ranged from 2.42 to 3.1 seconds. That’s not a great deal of time to make decisions against defenders that are far better than they were in college. The Jets offensive line isn’t exactly the best in the league, so the speed of the game becomes an issue.

Again, adjusting to the speed of the game does not happen on the sidelines. It happens under center. A mentor can help a young quarterback and talk to him after a drive. Watching someone else do it will not help Sam Darnold learn how to do it. He must be on the field.

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Now, of course there are exceptions to this rule. Any quarterback drafted by the Patriots is going to have to ride the pine until the ageless Tom Brady is finally finished. The same goes for the heir apparent to Aaron Rodgers. These guys are legendary players. Young quarterbacks can learn from players like that.

Sam Darnold is not going to become a superstar by watching Josh McCown, despite his career year in 2017. Expect McCown to regress back to his normal stats, just like Ryan Fitzpatrick did. The way to become great is on the football field. Hopefully the Jets staff continues to understand that.