How time flies — Sam Darnold has already finished the first half of his NFL rookie season. And it was time today to ask the young Jets quarterback, who has taken every one of the Jets' 502 offensive snaps in the first eight games, to issue a self-assessment at the 2018 midway point.
"I think just being able to find consistency," Darnold said of the biggest things he's learned about being a pro. "I think I've done a pretty good job of just finding the open guys, but also I think I can do a better job of, once the first and second guys are not there, knowing exactly where my checkdown is, and if he's not there, go right to a scramble and find some open room.
"And if I feel the pocket closing down, if everyone's closing in on me, just throw the ball away, throw it at someone's feet, and live to see another down. That's the growth I see happening in the near future."
There's something to safely getting rid of the ball, which he didn't do as well against Minnesota two games ago with three interceptions that he did at Chicago with no interceptions, one ball "dirted" and three more thrown away out of bounds. Needless to say, Darnold and the entire offensive operation wanted more yardage and points in the loss to the Bears, but it is perhaps significant that the young man under center had only his second game with no personal turnovers.
"I think completions are huge, and obviously not turning the ball over. Those are two things I really look at," he said. "If I continue to complete the football, put it in the playmakers' hands, let them do their thing, and then if I don't turn the ball over, don't make dumb mistakes ... we'll put the ball in the end zone."
Those are traditionally areas that NFL rookie starters grapple with, and in fact all of this year's "top 10" drafted QBs — Baker Mayfield, first overall to the Browns, Darnold at No. 3, Josh Allen at No. 7 to the Bills, and Josh Rosen 10th to the Cardinals — have scuffled with accuracy and giveaways. And Darnold's noticed similar issues with other first-rounders who've come before him.
"I don't really study it, but I remember just from watching guys their first years in the NFL, it's usually a tough one," he said. "At the same time, we have certain standards here, expectations of winning, so I don't really use that as an excuse. Sure, I'm aware of certain struggles guys have had in their first years, but also guys who did really well like Deshaun last year."
That would be Deshaun Watson of the Texans, whom Darnold will be dueling in six weeks. For now, just around the bend and down I-95 come the Dolphins again, this time not far from South Beach.
"This is a little bit different, playing a team for the second team in one year. That's something you don't really do in college, unless you're playing a team you played in the regular season in the Pac-12 championship game," he said. "It's cool to be able to use that experience that I have playing them the first go-round to kind of see what we can do."
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That first go-round was probably Darnold's delayed baptism by fire. The next phase of his career must have seemed like smooth sailing after the Jets' opening-night romp at Detroit. But while throwing for 300 yards for the first and so far only time as a Jet in that game, Darnold also threw two picks and led the offense to only one TD and two field goals, all in the second half, in the 20-12 defeat.
Rather than frothing at the mouth to get even with this new rival of his, Darnold realizes another important part of being a first-year pro is to calmly and methodically stack wins, regardless of who the opponent is.
"Obviously it's a division game and going down there to Miami, it'd be huge to get a win," he said. "But then again, it's huge to get a win every single week. So just take it week by week."