FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
He has a terrific arm, a high football IQ, excellent footwork and terrific mobility. But there’s something else about Sam Darnold that sets him apart as a quarterback — something that will serve him well as he begins his NFL journey as the Jets’ starter.
It’s his calmness.
Spend any time around Darnold and you will sense it. In practice. In the locker room. In casual conversation. There is a level-headedness about him, a sense of composure and poise that you don’t always find around professional athletes. Especially quarterbacks.
When you do find it, you understand that it is one of his greatest assets. He’s not quite as unflappable as Eli Manning, whose equanimity has been part and parcel of his Hall of Fame career. But it’s close.
Darnold already has benefited from his composure; in fact, it’s a major reason coach Todd Bowles on Monday named him the starter for the regular-season opener against the Lions. Darnold calmly and methodically absorbed the Jets’ playbook throughout the spring, training camp and the preseason and then translated that knowledge on to the field. He never seemed rattled.
He won over his teammates and coaches and won the job, which was absolutely the correct call by Bowles.
“It’s just kind of who I am, so I don’t really think much of it,” Darnold said of his demeanor. “I just kind of go out there and let my play speak for itself and not worry too much about what others are thinking and how many people are out there watching us.”
It’s a great attitude to have, especially in the New York market, where the pressure can swallow up even the most talented athletes. Darnold seems to have a lot of Eli in him when it comes to not worrying about outside expectations, the perfect dynamic moving forward.
He takes over a team that has been in search of a franchise quarterback since the days of Joe Namath, but he doesn’t feel burdened by that sense of hope among fans starved for success and scarred by failure.
“It is what it is,” he said. “I’m not super-worried about anyone’s opinion. I’m just going out there and playing ball.”
Darnold beat out incumbent Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater, who was traded to the Saints for a third-round pick last week. McCown agrees that Darnold’s temperament is ideal and will help him.
“I think one of the key factors in playing this position is the poise and the ability to stay right here all the time,” McCown said, moving his hand in a straight line. “It doesn’t mean you can’t be emotional and can’t enjoy playing the game and having fun. But if you can master the ability to play every play as itself, that’s huge. I think when you have a calm demeanor, it lends itself to that, and Sam certainly has that.”
Bowles sensed it right away.
“I’m sure he has highs and lows, but he hides it about as well as I do now,” Bowles said. “He’s great to be around from a professional standpoint and a personal standpoint. All of the coaches and all of the guys love being around him.”
Darnold has become the unquestioned leader of the Jets, ready to carry them on a journey he hopes will lead to a Super Bowl title.
He will do it on the biggest stage of all . . . which doesn’t seem too big for him.
“It’s going to be fun for a long time here in New York,” he said.
Enjoy the ride.