The "trending" is upward for Sam Darnold. But Head Coach Adam Gase says no decision has yet been made about his return under center Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, mainly due to the unknowns surrounding his injured right throwing shoulder that have kept him out of action for four of the past six games.
"We'll see how today goes," Gase told reporters before practice at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on Wednesday. "We're hoping for things to go smooth and he feels good. Everything's been trending in the right direction. We're going to take this one day at a time and see how this week goes."
Yet even after limiting Darnold's throwing this week to individual and team drills, no extracurricular tossing during special teams, the coach acknowledges that even if Darnold's shoulder feels fine during Sunday morning warmups, there's one question they won't know the answer to until it happens: What happens when Sam's shoulder gets slammed during the game?
"I'm asking the same question you're asking," Gase said with a smile. "I'm talking to Sam about it, talking to the trainers about it, talking to Joe D [Douglas] about it, the rest of the coaching staff. How do we really know?
"I'm not worried about structural damage. It's just about how bad it's going to hurt. Is he going to be able to recover if he gets hit and driven into the groundM? Is that pain going to be so much where he can't go anymore? Because if that happens on the first series of the game, now we've got a real issue."
Of course there are some things that Gase and offensive coordinator/gameday play-caller Dowell Loggains can do. One is to find ways early and often for Darnold to get the ball to WRs Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims and a perhaps jump-started TE Chris Herndon after two outstanding catches against the Chargers. Due to the wideouts' injuries, Darnold has yet to play a game with all three of his starters.
"Sam has some options, some guys that can stretch the field vertically," Gase said, before reflecting on five games ago, when the Jets offense with Joe Flacco at QB just missed some deep shots as they were being shut out at Miami. "We have to make those plays. We have to understand when they're pressuring, we've got to get rid of the ball, we've got to make sure we do a good job on the protection schemes. It's a challenge for sure."
Another challenge will be in the selection of plays by Gase and offensive coordinator/gameday play-caller Dowell Loggains.
"Let's not run the lead-draw with him, maybe. We can avoid some of those types of things," Gase said. "At the same time, you've got to let him play the way he's accustomed to playing. His biggest thing to protecting himself is when he gets in those positions outside the pocket. It might be a throwaway instead of trying to do something crazy and extend the play to the point where he's putting himself in harm's way."
Yet that's what happened the last time Darnold started, at Kansas City, when he got shouldered into the Arrowhead grass by a pair of Chiefs at the end of a third-down scramble early in the fourth quarter. And what could happen if instincts take over and he's crunched in a Dolphins sandwich at MetLife.
But all Gase can do through Friday is table that talk about what-ifs and see how Darnold responds to several practices of limited to full-go throwing and practicing.
"We've just got to keep talking through it, see how he feels," Gase said. "Hopefully, we'll go out today, he feels really good throwing it around, and we'll keep talking through this."
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