FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Jeremy Bates did all he could on Friday to shift the focus from number 14 to 11.
The former is what the Jets’ rookie quarterback, Sam Darnold, wears on his jersey; the latter is the number of players on the field for each team.
Of 18 questions over nine minutes that the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach fielded in his first news conference of the regular season, 17 referenced Darnold in some form.
But Bates repeatedly, sometimes comically, sought to steer the conversation to the fact that Darnold is only one of 11. Part of that surely was media strategy, but it had a larger purpose.
It goes without saying that there is pressure on Darnold, 21, as he enters his regular-season debut against the Lions in Detroit on Monday night. And the Jets are determined not to say it.
No one on the staff works more closely with Darnold than does Bates, and he believes he is ready, on and off the field, something he sensed the day Darnold showed up for rookie minicamp in the spring.
“Sam dove right in and he mastered the three days of that playbook,” Bates said, “and ever since then, there hasn’t been any looking back as far as what we expect of him and what he’s proven.”
That being said, Bates wants Darnold to know going in that he is not alone. Remember: 11.
“It takes 11 guys on every play,” he said. “It’s not just one guy, it’s 11 guys on every play. All 11 guys are working hard and executing.”
Most of the rationale in handing the reins to Darnold is based on his talent. But his demeanor and maturity make everyone involved feel better.
Asked how a 21-year-old can walk into a locker room full of veterans and lead, Bates said, “I think it’s just work hard, both in the classroom and on the field. He’s very humble. He’s a perfectionist.
“So I think at the end of the day, with a leader, you have to be yourself. He’s himself every day. He doesn’t change. He’s very flat-line as far as his personality. He’s kind of just been Sam, and he’s a natural-born leader.”
Darnold was given few chances to throw downfield in the preseason, and on Monday, he will encounter a loud indoor stadium on prime-time national television.
So it would make sense if Bates sought to ease him into the experience with a conservative early approach. Right?
Bates would not go there, citing game-planning secrecy, but he acknowledged that looking for bigger plays would be nice as long as it does not lead to turnovers or too many incompletions.
“Again, I’m not going to get into the game-planning or anything,” he said, “but he’s our starting quarterback, and we’re confident that he can handle anything.”
Bates dismissed the notion that the hype surrounding Darnold has set too high a bar among fans. Head coach Todd Bowles also was not interested in that sort of thinking.
“I’m starting him; my confidence level has got to be pretty high,” he said. “He’s [been] playing football his whole life. We don’t go by age. There’s always going to be one-year guys, two-year guys and 10-year guys. It’s a team going up there, so I don’t worry about the confidence of the quarterback. I worry about the confidence of the team.”
What might be a reasonable expectation for Darnold on Monday? “Play well,” Bowles said, “and win the game.”
Notes & quotes: Safety Marcus Maye (foot) and linebacker Josh Martin (concussion) did not practice. Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse (abdomen) returned to practice on a limited basis.