Sam Darnold’s return is encouraging, but not the answer to all of the Jets’ offensive woes.
It’s hard not to be blinded by the fantasy of a franchise quarterback battling back from mononucleosis, to save the 0-4 Jets from the bottom of the AFC East and turn around the whole season. But there’s a lot more to it.
“Anytime your starting quarterback comes back, guys are going to be excited,” coach Adam Gase said before practice Wednesday. “The good thing is, the way he looks at it is, he wants to come in and do his job.
“I don’t think guys are looking at as, now that he’s back all will be all right. They know we have a lot to clean up.”
The Jets have been without Darnold, who was officially cleared to play Tuesday after passing tests to determine his spleen had returned to its normal size, since Week 1. And the offense has flopped behind third-string quarterback Luke Falk, with the added pressures of a depleted offensive line and a struggling secondary.
In his first two starts, Falk threw for 218 yards with three interceptions, keeping the team from utilizing any down-field looks it may have been capable of. But Gase feels with Darnold back, he now has no restrictions on what he can draw up on offense.
“I think it does open some things up [for me as a play-caller],” Gase said, “as far as his ability to throw down the field. The timing he and Robby [Anderson] have is a lot different than what anybody else would have, just because of their experience together.”
Gase referred to Darnold as an eraser-type player, meaning he can mask play-calling mistakes because of his ability to figure things out on the fly. He said he believes Darnold’s ability to escape trouble and extend plays with his pocket presence will camouflage other’s poor decisions.
Running back Le’Veon Bell considers himself to be the most excited out of everyone for Darnold’s return. Considering this is his first season with Darnold and the Jets, Bell feels like he hasn’t had the opportunity to experience how the second-year QB operates.
“He’s a playmaker,” Bell said following practice Wednesday. “He made a lot of plays in college and, obviously, last year. Him following it up this year is going to be fun. We still haven’t seen everything he can do yet, he’s still a young player. And he’s only going to continue to get better.
According to Bell, Darnold’s presence on the field will also help with team camaraderie and the overall feel to the locker room. In addition to bolstering the offense’s versatility, Darnold will now be able to put work into developing chemistry with the new faces on the roster. Gase said he believes it will be mutually beneficial for Darnold to start throwing to Demaryius Thomas, Vyncint Smith and Jamison Crowder as much as possible going forward.
The 3-2 Cowboys travel to MetLife Stadium on Sunday with plans to spoil Darnold’s homecoming. The 22-year-old quarterback will have his hands full with Dallas’ talented defense. Robert Quinn, whom Gase worked with in Miami last year, and DeMarcus Lawrence are legitimate pass rushers and are trying to avoid a third straight loss.
“Him just getting back into the huddle,” Bell said. “Even him just calling plays in practice, just hearing his voice and getting that normal cadence that everybody is normally used to hearing it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, Sam’s back. We’re ready.’ ”