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Matt Leinart finds it 'tough to watch' Sam Darnold struggle with Jets, but believes quarterback can succeed

Jets head coach Adam Gase and New York

Jets head coach Adam Gase and New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) watch a replay of an interception on the scoreboard during an NFL football game between the Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Indianapolis.  Credit: AP/Zach Bolinger

Matt Leinart knows and "loves" Sam Darnold, which is why it has pained him to see the Jets play for much of the past three seasons.

"It’s tough to watch," Leinart said. "It’s tough to watch him play, and there’s not a lot of help over there."

Leinart, a Fox Sports analyst who on Saturday will appear on the "Big Noon Kickoff" show from Ohio Stadium, is not just any observer of the Jets quarterback. He and Darnold are two of three Southern Cal quarterbacks drafted in the first round over the past 15 years, along with former Jet Mark Sanchez.

So he is not impartial. But he is knowledgeable, a former Heisman Trophy winner who started only NFL 18 games over seven seasons for three teams who understands how difficult the process can be.

"I’m probably preaching to the choir, but it’s just not a great situation," Leinart said of Darnold, who has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury but might play on Sunday for the winless Jets. "As a quarterback, it’s very difficult to be successful right away. You need great players around you, whether it’s offensive linemen, receivers, players, coaching, all of the things so that you can develop.

"I didn’t play for any of those coaches in New York so I can’t speak for them personally, but I just wonder if it’s the best situation for him. There’s no doubt that he’s talented, and there’s no doubt that he can start in the league. I think he’s shown that in his brief career.

"He’ll have plays and he’ll have games where it’s like: This is why he was a top-five pick. He’s just a really special player. But sometimes you get caught in a situation and the years go by and all of a sudden you just don’t get that second opportunity or that third opportunity and you kind of waste years away in a place, and unfortunately I think that’s just what’s happening to him in New York.

"I would imagine obviously with the talk of Trevor Lawrence and if New York gets the No. 1 [draft] pick and all of those things, sometimes a fresh start is the best thing that can happen for everybody. Who knows what’s going to happen with the coaching situation, but that doesn’t look great.

"So I just know that Sam, when he does get the opportunity and gets a change of scenery, I know he’ll be successful. But it's tough to watch. It’s tough to watch him play and there’s not a lot of help over there.

"It’s going to be interesting to see what they do, obviously. The coach (Adam Gase) is out at some point and you have the No. 1 pick (Lawrence) who is just a can’t-miss prospect, in my opinion.

"Now granted, you need help and you need to build and that’s the thing that’s happened with Sam. But we’ll see what happens. He’ll get his shot somewhere. He’s good enough to play, there’s no doubt about it."

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