Sam Darnold feels more comfortable throwing the football. It’s not knowing how he’ll feel when he gets hit in his right shoulder that’s his biggest obstacle.
Darnold, who missed the last two games because of a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder, wants to play on Sunday when the Jets host the Dolphins. He will need a good, confidence-restoring week of practice to do that.
"The shoulder feels good throwing and doing all the things I need to do," he said during a Monday conference call. "At this point, it’s just getting hit and how it’s going to respond that way. Throughout the week, I just got to be careful of how it feels and what bothers it and what doesn’t."
That makes it a tough call for the Jets and Darnold.
There isn’t much hitting in practice, and the Jets can’t simulate Darnold being driven to the hard MetLife Stadium turf. Darnold, who has been on a throwing program to build back the strength in his shoulder, has to feel confident that he will be OK if he takes a hard hit.
Ultimately, the third-year quarterback will have a big say in whether he plays as the 0-10 Jets look for their first win. If he can’t play, it will be Joe Flacco in charge again.
"That’s the point of sitting out last week. It was to prevent any type of setback," Darnold said. "I didn’t feel comfortable enough yet or confident enough in my shoulder where if I were to get hit, I would be fine. I’m nearing that point where I have a little bit more confidence in my shoulder to be able to withstand a hit. That’s a good thing."
Darnold said last week that he’s got to think about his "longevity," but he changed his tune a little Monday. He said if he were to reinjure his shoulder, "the worst-case scenario" is that he would miss another two or three weeks.
The Jets have only six games left, and if they end up with the first pick in the draft, there’s a good chance that they’re going to move on from Darnold. But the team is not pushing him to play again. Adam Gase said there are many voices involved — doctors, trainers, front office, Darnold and his agency — and that Darnold’s health and well being are the "end all, be all" in the decision.
"If everybody feels good about if he gets hit, we’re going to be all right, then we’ll be good to go," Gase said. "If there’s any concern there, then we have to look at it."
Gase has been consistent in saying he would like to see Darnold play again and see how he does with the Jets’ starting receiving group of Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims.
That trio has played together only in the last two games. Flacco has thrown five touchdown passes in those games. Darnold has thrown three in the six he’s played in.
"I’d like to see him play with our starting wide receivers," Gase said. "That would probably be my No. 1 thing I’d love to see."
Darnold is happy that the starting group is doing well and making plays, but it’s not the main reason he wants to return.
"I just want to be out there regardless of that," he said. "I’m always going to be eager to go out there and want to play football."
The true test will come when the Jets return to practice Wednesday. It’s a matter of how Darnold progresses leading up to Sunday.
"If it feels weird at all throwing the ball or anything like that, then I’m able to tell I probably wouldn’t feel great if it got hit," he said. "It’s feeling really good. We’ll have a better understanding when it does happen if I get hit or anything like that. I’m confident in my shoulder to be able to withstand that. I just got to see how this week goes."