Peyton Manning is — by far —the most decorated quarterback Adam Gase has ever coached. And on a day when the retired Manning was paired on the golf course with Tiger Woods at the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio, Gase told reporters that Jets' second-year quarterback Sam Darnold has studied some of Manning's tape from the 2013-14 seasons when the future Hall of Famer was at the controls of Gase's offense in Denver.
"He can watch concepts. I think he's just taking it in a little bit at a time and he's picking certain things to watch, whether it's a conceptual thing, protections, footwork or certain routes," Gase said. "We have it broken down so many ways. I just think he's trying to pick certain points that he wants to improve on."
In Gase's first NFL season as an offensive coordinator, Manning established league records with 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 passing yards. The Broncos also became the first team to break the 600-point plateau, finishing with 606 points in 2013.
After just two seasons in Denver, Gase ended up following John Fox to Chicago and took over the offensive reins for the Bears in 2015. In his only year in the Windy City, Gase helped veteran Jay Cutler record a personal-best 92.3 passer rating while completing 64.4 percent of his passes and throwing for 3,659 yards. Cutler also rushed for 201 yards, using his feet on some zone reads and when coverages created space.
"I just think he's trying to pick certain points that he wants to improve on," Gase said of Darnold. "Looking at what he did, I know he's watched some things with how Jay did some stuff too because of their ability to move a little bit different, those guys being able to get outside the pocket and stuff. At the same time, I don't think he's over-analyzing anything. I think he's trying to take some of those finer points of some of the things that Peyton did and implement those, but at the same time still being himself."
Despite learning a third offense in three years, Darnold has appeared poised and comfortable throughout the spring. He oozes with talent and you saw it all on display during a three-play sequence in Wednesday's OTA. First, he faked a handoff to Ty Montgomery, charging up the field for a sizeable gain following a zone read. Darnold used his arm to get the job done on the next two snaps, hitting Quincy Enunwa by the boundary for a gain of approximately 40 yards before the safety was able to get over and get his hands on the ball. Finally, he wrapped up the drive with a strike to tight Chris Herndon for a short score.
"You can see a confidence where you can tell when you run a play maybe the first time, and then a week later maybe it's the third or fourth time we've done something similar, and you can see just body language, throwing, timing, all those things just change," Gase said. "The more we do stuff the more confident he's going to get."
Earlier in the workout, Darnold placed the ball behind Herndon inside the red zone. The 6'4", 253-pound target, who caught 39 passes his rookie campaign for 502 receiving yards with four touchdowns, took his left hand and snatched the ball into his body before hauling it down for another score.
"The game has really slowed down for him. Last year, we both came in as rookies and got put in the fire," Herndon said. "It probably seemed like a lot at the time. Him being a second-year player now and having a better feel for the game at this level — I feel like that has helped him a lot. Naturally, he is coming along more and more."
After spending last week working on early downs, Gase added the red area and two-minute situations into the mix this week. There is a ways to go, but Gase described his attack as a "chameleon" that can get voluminous or minimized.
"It's really about him putting his spin on the whole offense," Gase said of Darnold. "Same thing with the position and skill guys, them putting their spin on what we do. We kind of give them the blueprint, and then we morph into whatever our players can do."