Learning a new offense for a quarterback isn’t quite the same as learning an entirely new language, but it’s close. Learning three different offenses in three years? Well, that’s pushing it.
Fortunately for Sam Darnold, he doesn’t have to face that possibility now that Jets CEO Christopher Johnson has decided Adam Gase will be his coach until further notice. Which means that Darnold can focus on growing within the same offensive system for the foreseeable future.
“It’s definitely important,” Darnold said about the advantages of keeping Gase’s offense. “If I can have the same system for the second year in a row, I can only imagine how much I’ll understand the offense.”
It has been an uneven development for Darnold in Gase’s offense, with plenty of moments this season that make you wonder whether he is progressing or regressing in Year 2 of his NFL career. He was terrific in a 24-22 win over the Cowboys last month, returning from a bout of mono and producing one of his best games. But a week later, he began a three-game tailspin with a four-interception meltdown against the Patriots, continued with a lackluster effort in Jacksonville and culminated with a loss to the previously winless Dolphins.
Last Sunday against the Giants, it looked far more promising for the No. 3 pick of the 2018 draft. He had one touchdown pass, ran for another score and didn’t throw an interception in a 34-27 win. But let’s not draw too many conclusions from that one; after all, Darnold excelled against one of the least impactful defenses in the NFL.
Still, Darnold believes in his coach and believes that over time, the wins eventually will come. That’s why he was one of the happiest players in the locker room when it was revealed that Gase will continue as coach.
That news wasn’t welcomed with the same verve by Jets’ fans. Many of them would like to see Gase gone. At 2-7, they’ve had it with the losing.
The frustration is understandable, especially after all the disappointments of the recent past — not to mention the distant past. Jets fans have dealt with unfulfilled expectations for more than half a century, since the team’s only Super Bowl victory.
Christopher Johnson believes Gase is the answer, and the CEO is willing to stake his reputation on that conviction. If the coach doesn’t turn things around, then Johnson — who eventually will cede authority of day-to-day operations to his brother, Woody, currently serving as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom — will be remembered as the man who made the wrong call at a critical juncture in franchise history.
Christopher Johnson correctly points out that constantly changing offensive systems can work against a young quarterback like Darnold, and he believes continuity will be good for his quarterback. Of course, if it’s the wrong system, then no amount of stability will provide the course correction necessary for his team.
But the 22-year-old Darnold, mature beyond his years, makes a compelling case to keep Gase. I don’t get the sense he’s paying lip service to his coach. I get the sense he is genuinely convinced Gase is a quality coach who can bring out the best in his quarterback.
“Throughout a season, you go through ups and downs and how we’ve dealt with those ups and downs, it allows you to get to know someone,” Darnold said. “The trust factor has only gone up from the start of the season. Our levels of trust in each other will only go up.”
Gase’s calling card is his reputation as an offensive expert, and the only way he can succeed with the Jets is if he gets the most out of Darnold. So far, that hasn’t always been the case, and disturbing signs of regression during his three-week malaise before the Giants game suggested that his fitness as the Jets’ coach was in doubt.
Johnson has ended any speculation that he’s about to cast aside Gase, at least for the time being. But if his team continues to unravel, Johnson certainly can change course. But after Wednesday’s pronouncement that the CEO has no immediate plans to fire Gase and virtually guaranteed the coach would be back next season, the heat is off.
Darnold was especially enthused after Sunday’s win over the Giants, suggesting the Jets might be able to get on a roll and possibly even make the playoffs. Upon further review, he wishes he’d have dialed back that thought.
“There’s definitely a better way of saying it,” he said. “Taking it one game at a time would have been better. I was stoked about the win, but we need to take it one step at a time and one practice at a time.”
Words to live by, especially now that Darnold can take comfort in not having to worry about learning a new system again.
At least not yet.