FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
It turns out Eli Manning isn’t the only New York quarterback with more velocity on his fastball this year.
Manning divulged last week that his offseason work with overhand throwing specialist Mickey Brueckner helped strengthen his arm. It turns out that Sam Darnold also added some zip to his throws with his own offseason training regimen.
“I don’t think I realized how strong his arm was,” Jets coach Adam Gase said after practice Monday. “It looks like he does have more velocity this year. That’s just from my perspective.”
The same holds true from Darnold’s perspective, although he did more football-specific training than Manning, who took many of the lessons from Brueckner, a former college pitcher, and incorporated them into his throwing motion. Darnold also credits what’s going on inside his head — and his hips — as much as his arm for the big difference.
“I think it just comes with confidence, going out there and knowing that I can do this,” Darnold said. “It’s not that I didn’t know that last year, it’s just with this offense, I feel like I already know most of it. I’m just going out there and spinning it, whereas last year I wasn’t super- comfortable with all the guys, getting in the huddle, feeling timid. I wasn’t really myself.”
Darnold definitely passes the eye test when it comes to practice. It’s obvious that he’s throwing the ball with more authority and more pace.
“It helps him when he wants to fit those balls in those really tight windows,” Gase said. “The ball gets there in a hurry.”
Lifting weights has helped. Getting in better shape — Darnold has trimmed a good deal of body fat and looks slimmer than last season — has, too. Working on his hips may have helped the most.
“I think a lot of it stems from my hip strength,” Darnold said. “Been working on my hip strength, my hip flexibility throughout this offseason, throughout training camp. As long as I continue to work on that, make my hips stronger and more flexible, but also stable, I think my arm will continue to get stronger.”
It also helps that Darnold was able to get himself ready just for training camp during the offseason and not the draft, as he had the previous year.
“Going through the draft and the combine and all that stuff, maybe I was pushing it a little too much early on, because I had to,” said Darnold, the third overall pick. “I was trying to be at my peak performance for pro day [in March]. When you’re trying to get ready for an NFL season, that’s not when you want to be at your peak performance.”
It was a Catch-22 for Darnold, as it is for every rookie quarterback preparing for the draft. The idea is to be selected as high as possible, which means impressing scouts in February, March and April.
“I think a lot of it has to do with knowing where my arm needs to be,” he said. “For me, it’s about getting ready. I feel great heading into the year. I’m right where I want to be, and if I just continue to do that and continue to keep my arm right but also my hips right, I’ll be all right.”
Darnold remains a work in progress. Although he has had a strong camp, there have been a few trying moments. Midway through Monday’s practice, he was intercepted by cornerback Trumaine Johnson. The play punctuated an unusually sluggish practice by the offense.
“We thought they were going to come out in another defense,” Darnold said. “I really should have just thrown the ball away. I did the cardinal sin. I tried to throw it away in play at the receiver’s feet and Trumaine made a good play.”
There have been many positive moments for Darnold, whose confidence has grown exponentially from his admittedly tentative start a year ago.
“This year, now that I’m stepping more into that leadership role,” he said, “I guess you can say I’m definitely a lot more comfortable and confident in myself.”
It shows. Now he hopes the improved arm strength and field leadership will translate to the only thing that matters for a quarterback: getting his team into the end zone.