RICHMOND, Va. — Sam Darnold hears you, Jets fans — both figuratively (from afar) and literally, in the form of a sizable contingent that showed up Sunday for a joint practice with the Redskins.
“I’ve been hearing the buzz and everything for a while now,” the rookie quarterback said after practice. “It’s really cool. It’s really fun to be a part of this organization, and the fans are incredible as well.”
As for the vocal, hearty group that made the trip here — and endured a rainstorm that cut practice short — Darnold said, “It was amazing to be able to come out there and play in front of those fans and hear their excitement.”
The excitement mostly was theoretical until Friday night, when he made a strong impression in his preseason debut, a 17-0 victory over the Falcons at MetLife Stadium.
Darnold entered the game in the second quarter, completed 13 of 18 pass attempts for 96 yards and a touchdown, then discovered a couple of dozen texts from family and friends.
“It’s cool to be able to just see so many people who were excited for me,” he said. “I thought I played pretty well. Obviously, there’s stuff to improve on. But having a good little preseason debut and having friends be able to talk about it was pretty cool.”
Darnold was careful not to take too much for granted. More than once, he mentioned that he has to improve at getting out of the huddle and to the line of scrimmage more quickly and efficiently. If that is his biggest problem, the Jets have found a gem.
The question now is how to handle him for the final three preseason games. He was the third man in on Friday, but many fans would like to see him start against the Redskins on Thursday night.
Coach Todd Bowles did not rule that out, nor did he rule it in. But his actions spoke volumes. Darnold got the vast majority of first-team snaps during the practice against the Redskins and could get the nod.
Be it in practice or games, Bowles said the key is to get Darnold as much action as possible regardless of whether he is playing with and against starters.
“I can get a fair evaluation of Josh [McCown]; I’ve seen him quite a bit,” Bowles said. “I’ve seen Teddy [Bridgewater] quite a bit. Sam’s the one who has to get caught up.”
McCown, whose preseason playing time likely will be limited because of Darnold’s lesson plan, acknowledged that some parts of the game are different from others when trying to develop and learn.
“I mean, obviously, there’s a reason we have depth charts and guys are starters,” he said. “So when you work against the starters, it’s a little bit better group, just by the depth chart, so you get that.”
Last year, McCown did not play much in preseason while the team got a long look at Christian Hackenberg, but McCown got the opening day nod anyway. It is entirely possible this year that while McCown sits, Darnold will take charge.
“Obviously, like I’ve always said, I’m here to play,” McCown said. “It’s fun to play, but at the same time, just like last year, I understand that evaluations have to take place . . . Whatever they decide, I understand completely. But there’s no substitute for playing.”
Darnold said his top priority is repetitions, regardless of when they come in a practice or game.
“In terms of running the play, you see everything the same,” he said. “It’s just maybe a different guy running routes or blocking for you.”
There is a good chance that come Thursday, those guys will be from the Jets’ first unit.