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Sam Darnold making big strides with Jets' new offense under Adam Gase

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold passes the football during

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold passes the football during Organized Team Activities at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on Wednesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Sam Darnold has been watching film of some of Adam Gase’s former quarterbacks, including Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Manning shows up at a Jets practice at some point to see his old coach and impart some wisdom onto Darnold.

“He’s a tough one to get a hold of,” Gase said before Wednesday’s organized team activity. “If he happens to be in town, his brother lives around here, so there’s a good chance he might be around.”

It sounds as if Peyton could have an open invitation to come to Florham Park any time he’s visiting his brother, Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Gase and Darnold both have said there still is a lot to digest and learn about the offense, so any tips or advice would be more than welcomed.

But Darnold had some strong moments Wednesday running the hurry-up offense that Gase is installing.

On one impressive drive, Darnold completed a pass to Robby Anderson, ran for a first down on a read option, and connected on a perfectly thrown and placed 40-yard pass down the sideline with Quincy Enunwa to the 1-yard line. Darnold completed the series with a TD pass to tight end Chris Herndon.

Gase has seen Darnold take big steps since the first OTA session last week.

“You can see a confidence,” Gase said. “When we run a play maybe the first time and a week later, maybe it’s the third or fourth time we’ve done something similar, and you can see body language, timing, all those things just changes. The more we do stuff the more confident he’s going to get.”

This is just the beginning.

Gase, the first-year Jets coach, said he’s just scratched the surface of an offense that can truly expand.  Last week, Gase said they worked on first, second and third downs. This week, they added red zone and the two-minute drill.

“We’re adding as we go but we’re not even close,” Gase said. “We’re piecing it in there. We’re repping it. This offense is a chameleon. It could blow up to a gazillion things. It can be minimized. It all depends on what our players can handle, what we can do, what the quarterback is feeling, what he likes. The longer we go the bigger it’ll get.”

Next week, the offense should grow even more when the Jets hold their mandatory minicamp. Le’Veon Bell hasn’t attended the OTAs but is expected at minicamp. Bell is a major weapon and such a versatile one that it will only add to what Gase can do.

This also is what has Darnold looking forward to playing for Gase and in this offense.

The Jets have better skill players than Darnold had as a rookie, and a more aggressive play caller. Former offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates was more conservative than Gase will be.

“I think Coach Gase is going to give me some freedom,” Darnold said. “I don’t want to say he’s going to give me the keys necessarily. But I definitely think he’s going to give me the freedom to, if I see something, just go with my instincts and trust it and if I’m not sure just roll with what he gave me and let’s go. That’s kind of the attitude with this offense and I’m super excited about it.”

That’s why it makes sense for Darnold to watch film of Manning and Cutler. Manning played for Gase in Denver, and Cutler played for him in Chicago and Miami.

Darnold may be more comparable to Cutler because of his athleticism and ability to escape the pocket and make something happen with his legs. But Manning’s preparation, ability to read defenses and decision-making are legendary.

“He’s just taking it in a little bit at a time,” Gase said. “He’s picking certain things to watch, conceptual things, protections, footwork, certain routes. We have it broken down so many different ways. He’s trying to pick certain points that he wants to improve on and he’s kind of looking at what he did.

“We have conversations every once in a while about what we were doing and how he operated. It seems like we’ll go through everybody that’s been in it and it’s really about him putting his spin on the whole offense. The same thing with the skill guys. We kind of give them the blueprint and then we morph into whatever our players can do.”

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