Josh McCown may be the starting quarterback for the start of Jets training camp, and he stepped to the mic stand today batting second behind leadoff hitter and No. 2 QB Teddy Bridgewater. But the two veterans knew who the crowd was waiting for.
"Sam'll be here in a minute," McCown said, "but we'll get you warmed up."
Warmed up for the rookie, of course. And since Sam Darnold hadn't spoken to reporters since signing his first NFL contract with the Jets on Monday, he aw-shucks-ed the Jets and national reporters as well, such as when he asked about his teammates' warm welcome as he jogged out minutes late to that first practice.
"That was awesome, to be a part of that, not really expecting anything," Darnold said. "That kind of pushed everything — me not showing up at camp on time and being late — it kind of pushed all that to the side. And it just made me feel welcome, made me feel a part of the team."
Darnold was in the middle of it all at his second practice today, following Tuesday's off day, there from the beginning of the stretching period. The Green & White reporters didn't spare his feelings with their tweets, describing his practice as "spotty" or "very inconsistent."
Be that as it may, the Southern California Kid still demonstrated deftness throwing on the move and showed his moxie during team drills, following up an interception against the blitz when his throwing arm was hit with a nifty completion down the middle for good yardage to WR Chad Hansen.
Top Images from Wednesday's Practice in Florham Park
"It's really something we talk about in the quarterbacks room but we also talk about it as a team. It's important," Darnold said of his bounce-back-ability. "You want to limit your mistakes, but at the same time, if you do make a mistake, you don't want to keep your head down, you want to hold your head up high and just go after the next play with all you've got.
"That's kind of our mentality here but that's also been my mentality throughout playing football. That's how I was taught as a young age to play football, if I make a mistake early on, to just bounce right back when you get back out there."
One thing that comes through when he talks with reporters is that there is no fright for him on the stage he's now officially ascended. His body may have just turned 21 but his mental age is more 25, which is to say that of a fourth- or fifth-year pro. He didn't flinch, for example, at the question he'll be asked from now until Detroit on opening night, Sept. 10, if he's ready to start from day one.
"Obviously, that's a coach's decision," he said. "At the same time, it's about the team and whatever's best for the team. If Coach [Todd] Bowles and Coach [Jeremy] Bates feel like Josh or Teddy or myself are the best fit for the starting job, then that's what it is and the team can respect it. That's just how we roll.
"And I think that's also part of the reason why it's never really awkward at all in the quarterbacks room. Me and Teddy and Josh, we push each other every single day. But at the same time we love each other and we get after each other and we have some fun in the meeting room and practice."
Bowles was asked about the size of the situation in front of his young QB. "I don't think it's too big for him at all," the head coach said. "But he's got a lot of learning and work to do."
That doesn't faze Darnold a bit. While waiting for negotiations to end, he was watching practices on his iPad, working out at the hotel and throwing at a nearby high school. He said "it sucked" sitting out but left it to the Jets and his agents "to figure that stuff out and then whenever I get back on the field, that's my job, and my job is to play football to the best of my ability." After his first two practices, as one might expect, he stays late to run sprints or throw some more.
However the rest of the preseason unfolds for Darnold, he loves the game and seems to have the mentality to succeed in the NFL and for the Jets.
"It's fun to be able to come out here every single day and compete at a super-high level," he said, "and then go in and watch film with a few really smart dudes."