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Sam Darnold: 'It's hard' to build connections with new Jets teammates during pandemic

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold drops back during the

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold drops back during the second half against the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 22, 2019. Credit: Lee S. Weissman

Sam Darnold has been throwing the football as much as possible and trying to connect with his teammates through FaceTime and texts. That’s all a quarterback can do to stay sharp in this new virtual world.

But it is challenging for Darnold to build any chemistry and continuity at a time when those things will be imperative for the Jets to have any success in 2020.

They’re not a veteran team that has been together a long time. Darnold will be playing behind an almost entirely retooled offensive line and with two new receivers on the outside — Breshad Perriman and second-round pick Denzel Mims.

“It is different,” Darnold said during a Zoom call Tuesday. “I’m not in-person with the guys, getting to know the guys. But I’ve been texting and FaceTiming some guys every now and then, trying to build as much of a connection as we can. But it’s hard.”

Just about every NFL team  is facing similar obstacles during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Jets are putting in the work virtually, trying to make it as real as possible.

They are in the second week of their offseason program, and Darnold hopes they are building something.

“Hopefully things get a lot better and we’re able to play this season,” he said. “Right now, we’re just preparing how we would normally prepare. Obviously not in person, but we’re still going through things as normal and we got a pretty good setup with how we’ve been meeting. Everything’s good.

“I’m not taking this time for granted,” Darnold added. “I’m making every minute count because we’re not going to get a ton to meet or do any of that kind of stuff. Making sure that every single second counts. We’re just trying to put in the work that we can to make our team as prepared for this season as we possibly can."

Darnold is entering his third season in the NFL and second in Adam Gase’s system, and this is a big year for him.

He didn’t make a big leap in Year 2 for  myriad  reasons, including three games missed because of mononucleosis. But he showed growth and development, leading the Jets to a 7-5 mark with 19 touchdown passes after returning from his illness.

Expectations will be high for Darnold to produce better and win more this season because of his familiarity with Gase’s offense. Also, general manager Joe Douglas made sure he bolstered the offensive line in free agency and the draft to keep Darnold protected.

The Jets signed veterans Connor McGovern, George Fant and Rockville Centre’s Greg Van Roten, re-signed Alex Lewis and drafted 6-7, 363-pound Mekhi Becton, whom Darnold called “a freak athlete and obviously a large human.”

Darnold also looks forward to working with Mims, saying “he’s a great playmaker who’s got a lot of potential.”

A lot will be on Darnold to take the next step as a player, but also as a leader.

“Being second year in the system, I might help out some guys more often than I would have last year because I was still getting comfortable and trying to understand things as best I can,” Darnold said. “As I grow and mature and continue to be the quarterback for this organization, I’m going to continue to mold into the leader that I’m going to become.”

Darnold said he’s been working on using his lower body more when he throws to the right and improving his deep-ball accuracy. He also has been watching as much tape as possible to make sure he’s prepared if teams are allowed to report to camp in July.

“The future’s uncertain right now,” Darnold said. “I’m focused on what I can control, which is having good meetings, watching football and working out and throwing the football as much as I can.”

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