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Sam Darnold Remains on the Fast Track

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The Jets are off for a few more weeks, but their rookie quarterback is not taking a sabbatical. When asked by reporters about his multi-week break between mandatory minicamp and training camp, Darnold indicated that he had summer reading plans.

“I think staying with the offense,” he said. “Looking at the script, being able to have someone read the plays to me and being able to spit them back out. All those things. And then obviously continuing to lift, continuing to run and be on the field (and) throw the ball a little bit.”

Back in his native California, Darnold can afford to soak in some sun before the NFL pace picks up again in late July. The USC product, who was taken with the No. 3 overall selection in the draft by the Jets, is a 21-year-old who typically operates in the fast lane.

“He is just very sudden,” said offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates of Darnold. “If he sees a guy open, the ball is out now. I kind of describe him as a very sudden player. There is not a lot of wasted thought process between him thinking and him releasing the ball.”

Last season, Darnold started 14 games for the Trojans while passing for 4,143 yards with 26 touchdowns. He also was victimized by 13 interceptions and knows he will have to be an elite decision maker on Sundays.

“The windows are tighter, things happen a little bit sooner,” he said of the NFL competition he faced this spring. “When someone’s open, they aren’t open for long. So just trying to be on time and anticipate throws. And that’s what happens usually with some of my turnovers is some of the interceptions, just trying to anticipate it and really understanding all I need to do is check the ball down. It’s that easy.”

Todd Bowles described it as “learning spring” for Darnold and stressed that success couldn’t come for anyone in OTA and minicamp sessions where players practiced in t-shirts and shorts. But the red-headed rookie grasped the offense and responded any time he experienced a bump along the way.

“I think he understands it pretty well. But as you run plays and you make the mistakes, you learn from them,” said the Jets head coach. “He learns from his mistakes very well. So from that standpoint, he did a pretty good job and the more he sees, the more comfortable he gets.”

The Jets are allowing Darnold to proceed at a natural pace. The first-year pro received some reps with the starters in both OTAs and minicamp, but he’ll open training camp up third on the depth chart behind both Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater. When asked about the possibility of beginning the season as the team’s starter, Darnold talked about only things he can control.

“That’s not up to me. It’s a coaching decision,” he said. “I’m going to come in here and work every single day. I’m just going to work and grow to be the best quarterback I can be and help this team in any way.”

The Jets have dramatically upgraded their quarterback situation since January. McCown, who started 13 games for the Green & White last season, says Darnold doesn’t repeat mistakes and holds himself to a high standard.

“The guys that play in this league and have a career are guys that can do that. He understands that,” said the 39-year-old McCown. “It’s a reflection of study habits and how he is as a person and he loves these things. He works hard at it. He is always asking the right questions. I think because of that, it gives him a chance to play that way and not let him make the same mistake twice. So, it is a credit to his hard work and the coaches preparing him.”

It won’t be long now until Darnold is back on the practice field with his teammates. But the Jets can rest assured he’s getting his mind right for everything that lies ahead.

“Since rookie camp he hasn't flinched,” Bates said. “Everything that we have thrown at him, he been able to handle, so we're excited.”

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