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Sam Darnold getting consistent first-team reps as Jets enter third preseason game against Giants

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold during warmups on Aug.

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold during warmups on Aug. 22, 2018. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Sam Darnold’s consistent work with the first team indicates he could be the Jets’ starting quarterback on opening night. The seemingly unflappable rookie could cement his case with a strong showing Friday night against the team that passed on him.

The Jets will face the Giants at MetLife Stadium in their third preseason game, which is always the closest to a regular-season contest. Coach Todd Bowles already has said he will play the starters at least two quarters.

It would be surprising if Darnold didn’t start Friday after taking the majority of the first-team reps again this week. He could play into the third quarter to get as much experience as possible. But the Jets already have seen enough of Darnold to know he has the makeup and all the tools to lead a team.

“He’s a mature 21-year-old and nothing is too big for him,” offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said. “He doesn’t get down on himself. He understands that it’s the next play that’s most important and he does it day in and day out.

“Mentally, he’s sharp. He loves the game. He’s tough. He’s everything that you’re looking for in a young quarterback as far as the ability to go out there and the game is not too big for him. The stage isn’t too big for him. When the lights come on, he gets better.”

These are some of the traits that drew the Jets to Darnold. They were thrilled the former USC standout was available at No. 3 after the Giants selected running back Saquon Barkley with the second pick.

The Giants eventually will need to find a replacement for Eli Manning, so passing on Darnold is a move the Giants could regret someday, especially if he turns into the franchise quarterback the Jets and others believe he can become. But how Barkley’s and Darnold’s careers play out will be fascinating to watch.

For now, the Jets want Darnold to take everything from the quarterback room and the practice field into games and continue to grow.

He’s learning from Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater, who arguably has been the Jets’ best quarterback in camp. But Bridgewater also is a trade chip whom the Jets hope they can flip for an edge rusher or an early-round draft pick, particularly if Darnold stays healthy and meets expectations.

Darnold started the Jets’ previous preseason game and was 8-for-11 for 62 yards and an interception in a 15-13 loss to the Redskins. He led the Jets on only one scoring drive — Taylor Bertolet’s field goal — and threw his first interception of the preseason on a fourth-and-1.

Bowles said he just wants to see “progress” from Darnold.

“Each week he’s been progressing, obviously, getting his reads right,” Bowles said. “It’s not that he has to go 20-for-20 or 10-for-10, it’s just a matter of him seeing the defenses and making the right plays.”

In his debut, Darnold was much sharper, completing 13 of 18 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons. But he faced Atlanta’s second- and third-team defenses. Going against first-team defenses will better prepare Darnold for the Sept. 10 Monday night opener in Detroit if Bowles indeed names him the starter.

“I’m getting more comfortable,” Darnold said. “If I get in there and play, it’s just going to be more reps. I think the more reps I play and the more snaps I take, the more comfortable I get.”

Bowles said the starters “need to play a lot of plays” on Friday to get in game shape but also to face some situations that will help develop their “mental toughness.”

It’s an important game not only for Darnold but for other players trying to make the 53-man roster.

Five tight ends — Eric Tomlinson, Chris Herndon, Jordan Leggett, Neal Sterling and Clive Walford — are vying for a spot and all have had some good moments in camp.

The Jets also have to sort out who will start at outside linebacker. Jordan Jenkins, Josh Martin, Brandon Copeland, Dylan Donahue and Frankie Luvu are among the candidates, but Bowles said he could go with a rotation at that position.

“I think the next two games are important,” he said. “I don’t think it’s just the Giant game, I think the Eagle game as well for outside linebackers and the tight ends. They are all going to have to play and it’s a tight race right now and it’s going to come down to the little things as well.

“We got to see who steps up and makes plays, who does the things right and who does the little things.”

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