One could feel the heat from Sam Darnold over the phone, and it wasn't only because he was out of the Northeast chill and back home in sunny Southern California. His warmth for the Jets' newest hire was coming through from 3,000 miles away.
"I'm so excited. I couldn't be more thrilled to work with Coach Gase," the now second-year quarterback told Ethan Greenberg and me about his first reaction to the news that the Jets have chosen Adam Gase as their new head coach. "First of all, it's his passion for the game, for just football in general. And how excited he is to work with me and the offense and the whole team, it's awesome to hear and I'm really pumped about it."
Darnold had several reasons for his excitement, and one of those could be summed up in one word:
Or more precisely, "A lot of points," he said when asked what he expects from Gase's first Jets offense. "That's the name of the game, man. If you can score more points than the opponent, you win the game. Obviously we've got great players on defense and we're going to get a great coach so I'm excited to see where our defense is headed. But at the same time, we're going to score a lot of points. That's kind of the direction the game's heading, and I'm really excited about putting up a lot of points and helping this team just win some games."
Another reason for his fervor is the quarterbacks Gase has helped polish. One of them was Peyton Manning, who was going to the Pro Football Hall of Fame no matter who his coordinators were but who unquestionably was helped to NFL record heights with the 2013 Denver Broncos with Gase as his offensive coordinator.
"He's done some great things with guys in the past, being able to call plays for Peyton and be in his helmet," Darnold said. "He gave me a little insight into what it would be like on the inside, being a part of this offense. And this is the cool thing about Adam, too — he makes our offense go off of what our guys can do well and what I can do well. So I'm really excited about the whole thing and I think his passion and energy will be great in terms of leading our team."
Darnold, the third overall choice of last year's draft, had his growing pains in going 4-9 in 13 starts. His 77.6 passer rating and his averages of 4.9 plays/drive and 24.0 yards/drive were at the bottom of the list of this year's QBs, slightly above fellow rookies Josh Allen and Josh Rosen.
But one thing stands out. Despite the Jets suffering through a midseason team offensive drought and absorbing numerous injuries to wideouts and running backs, Darnold still got better-than-average production. The NFL average since 2000 for all QBs with less than 25 yards/drive is 1.20 points/drive and a TD drive rate of 12.3%. Darnold's figures were much healthier: 1.61 points/drive and a 16.9% TD rate.
Gase's work with Jay Cutler at Chicago in 2015 and Ryan Tannehill at Miami in 2016-18 won't be mentioned in the same breath as his work with Manning. Yet Cutler had the best passer rating (92.3) of his 12-year career under Gase and Tannehill had easily the best passing-TD rate of his seven-year career (17 TDs on 274 attempts, 6.2%) in his 11 games this past season. There is great promise for Darnold's skills matched up with Gase's scheme in the years ahead.
Darnold was reminded of Gase's early work on Nick Saban's staffs at Michigan State and LSU, and how Gase noted the workload was very difficult but the results were very rewarding.
"Well, that's what hard work is," Sam said. "I think if anyone is very successful in life, they will tell you it's not easy. And I think the more our guys understand that, the more our coaches, our team and everyone around the building understands that, the harder everyone will work, the more games we're going to win and the more successful our organization's going to be."
Darnold's early take on Adam Gase joining the Jets team repeated themes from earlier in our conversation.
"I'm just really, really pumped to have this attitude and buzz around this team," he said. "And I think our fans can really look forward to scoring a lot of points and having a lot of, I guess, fireworks every single Sunday."