If Sam Darnold isn’t under center on Sept. 10 in Detroit, it won’t be the Jets holding him back. They’re giving the prized first-round draft pick every opportunity to win the job.
And he has yet to disappoint them.
Jeremy Bates, the team’s new offensive coordinator tasked with developing Darnold, made that clear on Wednesday before the second practice of the team’s mandatory minicamp, saying the highly hyped signal-caller “hasn’t flinched.”
“We’re throwing everything at him,” Bates said, in his first public comments since being elevated to his current position with the Jets. “If he can handle it, if he can prove that he’s the starter, then that will take place when the time comes.
“We’re here to play the best football players that give us a chance to win on Sunday.”
It remains to be seen if Darnold will be part of that group, if he can beat out Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater this summer. In a 10-minute interview with reporters, spent mostly discussing the rookie, Bates raved about Darnold’s limitless potential, his impressive work habits, and his ability to process information quickly. Bates could have talked about the third-overall pick for hours.
“He came in at rookie camp and he hasn’t looked back,” Bates said.
He talked up Darnold adjusting to being under center rather than out of the shotgun, that he never makes the same mistake twice, as virtually everyone around the Jets has said. When asked for one thing that has stood out so far, Bates pointed to Darnold’s quick-thinking and ability to ad-lib.
“His suddenness,” Bates said. “If you watch his college tape, he has the ability to make plays off schedule. He’s just very sudden. If he sees a guy open, the ball is out now. I kind of describe him as a very sudden player. There’s not a lot of wasted thought process, as you go from him thinking to releasing the ball.
“At the same time, he has a true passion, a true love for the game. He’s all ball.”
Those work habits have jumped off the page to Bates. Darnold will show up early to the team’s practice complex and leave late. Bates described his demeanor as “very serious.” He has been able to handle the playbook so far, and though he has fumbled some snaps in spring workouts, Darnold has taken to being under center rather than out of the shotgun, as he played at USC.
“People don’t understand that getting a snap from under center and the huddle experience of calling these long, paragraph-kind of plays, it’s not easy,” said the 42-year-old Bates, who has worked as a quarterbacks coach with four different NFL teams. “I’ve been around some rookies that took a whole year to be able to get in a huddle and have confidence and call those plays. Ever since rookie minicamp, he hasn’t flinched. Everything we’ve thrown at him, he’s been able to handle.”
Darnold is the future of the organization, if not the present, the player the Jets hope can end their franchise quarterback drought. But the intense Bates is important, too, in charge of molding the quiet California kid. Their relationship is as important as any in Florham Park.
“It’s huge, because they talk to each other all the time,” coach Todd Bowles said, speaking in general terms of the offensive coordinator/starting quarterback dynamic. “They’ve got to have continuity, they have to be in sync, one has to know what the other one’s thinking.”
Bates is running his own offense for the first time since his 2010, when he was the Seahawks offensive coordinator. He spent one season as the Bears QB coach in 2012, After he was fired by the Bears following the 2012 season,then he took a three-year sabbatical, to think about ways he could become a better coach and person, before coming to the Jets last year as their quarterbacks coach.
“There’s a lot of things I learned,” he said.
The Jets are counting on him applying those lessons in his tutelage of Darnold. It’s his most important job.