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Sam Darnold earning respect by taking care of business

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) looks

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) looks to pass as Washington Redskins defensive end Jonathan Allen (93) is blocked during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) Credit: AP/Nick Wass

Florham Park, N.J. – Sam Darnold didn’t think a player of Josh Norman’s stature would bother even looking at how the rookie quarterback played, so it came as a surprise to see the Redskins’ cornerback compliment Darnold on his performance during a series of practices early last week.

“I couldn’t bait him like I wanted to, and he saw it, and he read it out, and he read it out like a vet,” Norman said. “You tip your hat to a guy like that, learning at an early age when guys are messing with him and when they’re not. It’s pretty awesome.”

Darnold smiled when asked Saturday whether he was aware of Norman’s comments.

“It’s cool to be able to have his respect,” he said. “I think it’s cool for a guy like that to notice me doing well in practice. You don’t really expect a vet to talk about a rookie like that. It was really kind words.”

Darnold sought out Norman after the game to thank him. It turned out the quarterback got some more advice from the star cornerback.

“It was cool to be able to talk to him a little bit and pick his brain on what he’s looking for in terms of quarterbacks,” Darnold said. “Sometimes it’s based on our footwork, he might expect a certain route or a certain throw. Just from his perspective, just nuances of little details of what he notices in quarterbacks that might tip him off in terms of what route he expects.”

It’s the latest evidence that Darnold’s seamless transition to the NFL is being noticed around the league, and further proof that the game doesn’t seem too big for the former USC star. Darnold did throw his first interception in Thursday’s 15-13 loss, but he looked solid enough for the Jets to continue considering him as their starter heading into the season.

Coach Todd Bowles won’t say how he’ll deploy his quarterbacks in Friday’s preseason game against the Giants, but it sure feels like Darnold will get another start and might play into the third quarter. Former Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has also been solid in training camp and the preseason, but you don’t trade up to the third overall pick and take a quarterback unless you consider him the franchise.

So far, so good for the 21-year-old star, who has impressed coach Todd Bowles with his grasp of the game. 

“I knew he was smart,” Bowles said. “Everybody learns differently. You don’t know until you get in and throw the playbook at them and seeing what they can comprehend and what they can’t, but he’s done a great job with remembering everything and playing with poise and control, so I’m happy with where he is. He understands everything, and he applies it the next time around without making a mistake, so that’s a good trait to have.”

What’s also impressive is that Darnold has improved exponentially despite having limited experience coming into the NFL.

"I feel like I’m going to continue to grow and get better every single day," Darnold said. "That’s what I’m excited about is growing and building chemistry with the guys in the locker room. I think we have the potential to do some really good things.”

As good as he became at USC, he thinks the learning curve can be even better in the NFL.

“In college, I had class, so every single day [with Jets], it’s looking at film and watching myself, understanding how I need to get better,” he said. “So just all football all the time [in the NFL] is helping me a lot.”

There are sure to be hiccups, just as there are for every young quarterback. But you have to like what you see out of Darnold so far. Coming into training camp, Bowles’ plan to have Josh McCown as his starter and Teddy Bridgewater at No. 2 and Darnold at No. 3 seemed sensible. But with Darnold showing a remarkable grasp of the game and looking more comfortable with each passing day, he has forced a sea change in thinking.

To the point where we are now – that it would be a surprise if he’s not the Week 1 starter. Unless he plays his way out of the equation against the Giants – which doesn’t seem likely – Darnold looks like he’ll be the guy.

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