FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Sam Darnold has been playing without any training wheels and is riding just fine, according to Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan.
In fact, make that more than fine.
“He’s really been unflappable,” Maccagnan told WFAN’s Boomer & Gio on Monday. “We are exceptionally happy with him . . . They’ve thrown everything at him in terms of the offense. He’s handled it, he’s moved on and he’s done well with it. Every day he goes out there, he gets a little better.”
Maccagnan said that in his 25 years around professional football, Darnold is one of the best rookie quarterbacks he’s ever seen.
“You have to remember, he literally just turned 21,” Maccagnan said. “He’s a very young person. But [we’re seeing] all the stuff we knew about him coming out of college — how people thought about him there. [It’s] his personality, his work ethic, the way he handles pressure — all those things are the intangibles that you really” want in a player.
This was the first time since the day Darnold joined training camp that Maccagnan has commented to the media about his progress. It’s clear that Darnold has made a seriously good impression early on, from his work ethic to his ability to bounce back from mistakes.
Coach Todd Bowles, who’s rarely anything but measured, again underlined Monday that there has been no decision on who will start against the Giants in the Jets’ third preseason game, much less who will start Week 1, but he gave a good indication of how he was leaning. Darnold got most of the reps with the first-team scout team and has received rave reviews not only from Maccagnan but from offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates.
Bates, who addressed the media for the first time since training camp began, said he is most impressed with “how easy the game is for [Darnold], both mentally and physically.”
“We haven’t scaled back offensively,” he added. “We’re giving Sam the same amount of information and the same plays as we’re giving Josh [McCown] and Teddy [Bridgewater] . . . He’s able to take the classroom knowledge and all the stuff he’s studying in the classroom and take it right to the field and execute it. We’re throwing a lot of football at him and he’s able to handle it, and that’s hard to tell in college. In college, he was looking at the signs at the sidelines. You just never know.”
When asked if Darnold is ready to be the Week 1 starter, Bates didn’t bite, instead saying that all three quarterbacks have the ability to be NFL starters. However, “he’s progressing extremely fast,” Bates said.
“He’s owned the playbook,” he added. “The three or four days he wasn’t here [because of a contract dispute] and [then] he was on the field, he didn’t even have meetings. He just went out there and started calling plays and running plays . . . A lot of times, that takes a whole year for some guys. And he just came out — no meeting time — and he hit the field running.”
What has most impressed him, Bates said, is Darnold’s ability to adapt when things break down, “which they do probably 70 percent of the game,” he said.
“He’s able to keep his head downfield, he’s able to scramble, find the lanes and find an open receiver. Just being able to make plays off-schedule is very powerful . . . He’s a student of the game.”