Brian Griese can relate to what Sam Darnold will go through on Monday night in Detroit. His first NFL start also was a Monday nighter, in 1999, for the two-time defending champion Broncos against Dan Marino's Dolphins.
“It’s not the easiest thing in the world to make your first start in the NFL, let alone on Monday night,” Griese said Wednesday on a conference call to promote ESPN’s coverage of the Jets-Lions game.
But Griese — who will be making his debut as a national NFL TV analyst — has little doubt the Jets’ rookie quarterback can rise to the occasion after working three of his games at USC and observing him as a player and person.
“I felt he had the head on his shoulders to handle it,” Griese said. “He’s got a great demeanor. He’s a very confident kid. He’s very humble.”
There was more evidence of that on July 30, the day Darnold signed his contract and arrived at practice to a slow clap from teammates, a situation Griese said had to be fraught with awkwardness and pressure.
“I remember Sam handled himself with aplomb in that scenario,” said Griese, who was there that day with “Monday Night Football” colleagues that included his play-by-play partner, Beth Mowins.
“He really seemed unfazed that day by it all and continues to look that way to me,” said Mowins, who called a Monday night game in Week 1 last season with Rex Ryan.
Griese said the Monday night crew will look to illustrate in creative ways what Darnold is experiencing.
“Yes, we’ll get into his skill set, ability, the decision-making, all of those things,” he said, “but I don’t want to miss the emotion for a 21-year-old.”
The plan, Griese said, will be to keep a close eye on Darnold on the sideline and to get “inside his helmet. What does it feel like to be a starting quarterback for the first time ever?”
Griese, 43, played 11 seasons in the NFL and won a Super Bowl ring behind John Elway in 1998. That is not a bad role model to have a rookie. Griese said Darnold has a good one, too, even if the playing roles are reversed.
“Sam hit the mentor jackpot in Josh McCown,” he said. “What a wonderful person, first and foremost, with the right mindset, the right attitude, the right experience to help Sam through this process.”
Griese also believes coordinator Jeremy Bates will be a good fit. Griese had one of his best seasons in 2004, when Bates coached him as a Buccaneer.
Among other reasons, he believes Bates will keep Darnold moving, where Griese thinks Darnold is at his best.
“He’s such a good athlete that you want to get him on the move, and the staple in that offense is running the outside zone play and then bootlegs off of it,” Griese said. “Some of his best plays in college were on the move. He’s very accurate in that situation.”
Griese, who played near Detroit at the University of Michigan, was a candidate to be the lead analyst for “Monday Night Football.” When Jason Witten got that job, he jumped at the chance to do one of the games for the opening night doubleheader.
After working last weekend’s Auburn-Washington opener, Griese said he is looking forward to analyzing an NFL game, where the pace is less frenetic.
“I’m excited to do an NFL game and have some time to breathe between plays,” he said.
Griese was 24 when he started that Monday night opener in 1999, three years older than Darnold is now. How did he do? Not too shabby.
The Broncos lost, 38-21, but Griese was 24-for-40 for 270 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Denver started 0-4 and finished that season 6-10.