FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Sam Darnold’s day began at 6:45 a.m. Friday on one of several hotel shuttle buses, an early start for the Jets’ No. 1 draft pick and the rest of the Jets’ rookies as they arrived at their new home as professional football players.
Darnold is just trying to fit in, but he’s more than somebody who’s supposed to just fit in. He’s the Jets’ 2018 first-round pick, and there are all sorts of expectations of him.
Day 1 as a professional included getting blood work to complete his physical and having offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates answer questions about the basics of his new playbook.
As a pro, it’s back to school for Darnold, learning the NFL way of doing things.
“Learning the playbook, learning as much as I can,” Darnold said. “Get used to calling plays in the huddle, being able to call plays at the line, being able to call audibles and everything like that because that’s something I didn’t really have to do in college. Just getting used to that, but also meeting guys and coaches and everything.”
It was a little after 1 p.m. when Darnold and the rest of the rookies started stretching on the practice fields under sunny skies to begin the first session of a two-day minicamp.
Darnold looked sharp in individual drills, completing deep passes and displaying a nice touch connecting on underneath routes.
But Darnold’s first 11-on-11 snap was a fumble as center Frank Sutton Jr., here as a tryout rookie from Louisiana-Monroe, mishandled it.
Darnold fumbled two more snaps, had a tipped pass intercepted by cornerback Boobie Hobbs (another tryout player from Utah), overthrew two receivers and took a sack. Those were the negatives.
The positives were aplenty. Darnold showed he can move in the pocket when under pressure, completing a pass while throwing across his body. He showed poise there as well, something the Jets liked when they were scouting him, as he moved up to complete a pair of throws in tight spaces.
Darnold didn’t take the ball from under center much when he was at USC. But on Friday, he took plenty of those snaps.
With Darnold’s day complete, he went back to his locker, nestled at the end of the row in the middle of the locker room where all of the rookies reside.
At some point, Darnold will get a permanent locker with the logos of his college, USC, and the state where he was born, California, placed next to his name. At least he’s finally here, and at work.
“It’s a combination of being nervous,” Darnold said, “but at the same time, I think it’s more relief more than anything.
“Just because I haven’t been with a team, I haven’t been inside the pocket for a long time. It’s really cool to have that feeling, being able to react to different situations that may come my way because when you’re doing drills and everything, everything is perfect. You have a perfect pocket, you’re working up in the pocket, but when a guy gets pushed into you, sometimes you have to scramble around and that’s huge in terms of being able to keep two hands on the ball and practicing that as much as possible.”
The Jets are excited about what Darnold can bring them.
The usually stoic Todd Bowles started laughing when asked how Darnold’s first day went. “He was’’ — Bowles then slammed the podium with his left hand and began yelling — “GREAT! I WANT HIM TO PLAY RIGHT NOW!!!”
Day 1 as a pro was intense, but Darnold — watched by the media, coaches and teammates — seemed to pass everything well.
“Just knowing it’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “If something happens on one play, being able to move on to the next whether it’s a touchdown or a pick. Just to be able to be poised throughout the whole practice like I have been my whole career.”