FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Sam Darnold didn’t make any bold guarantees like some past Jets quarterbacks. But he did say confidently that he expects “a lot of wins” this season.
The Jets have added stars on both sides of the football. But the one who will have it in his hands the most believes he and the Jets are ready to take a big step.
“There’s enough talent on this roster to be a playoff contender,” Darnold said Wednesday. “You definitely have expectations of making it to the playoffs, and we definitely have talent to do it.”
Darnold is no longer a rookie coming to camp trying to prove himself. It’s his team for sure. He knows it and feels comfortable in that role as he prepares to open training camp Thursday.
He said he’s grown from all of his experiences last season and all the work he put in this offseason to make sure his body was ready for the grind and to learn new coach Adam Gase’s offense. Darnold showed improved leadership by getting some of his teammates together for workouts in California leading up to camp.
“I learned a ton,” Darnold said. “Most importantly, I think we were able to spend time going over the verbiage of the offense, and I got to know them a lot better. I think everyone talking, having different conversations with each other, was good.
“The more you get to know your teammates, the more you know them on the field as well.”
Building chemistry will be a major key to whatever success the Jets have after going 4-12 last season. They’re all learning a new offense and defense, and Darnold has a number of skill players with whom he has to get acquainted quickly.
Versatile backs Le’Veon Bell and Ty Montgomery and slot receiver Jamison Crowder join returning receivers Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa. The Jets could have an explosive offense in Gase’s system. But if they are going to snap their eight-year playoff drought, it all will start with Darnold, who threw 17 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions in 13 games.
Darnold showed improvement as the season progressed. Everyone inside the Jets’ practice facility hopes it will carry over to Year 2, and that Darnold can follow the career trajectories of Carson Wentz, Jared Goff and Mitchell Trubisky.
“For me, and I think with a lot of guys that make that leap that second year, it comes with experience,” Darnold said. “Playing a lot of games last year and getting the NFL experience, it’s helpful. The more reps you get in a game, the more comfortable you become. I think you saw that later in the year with my play. The last few games I felt so much more comfortable out there. The more games that I play, the more comfortable I’ll feel.”
Darnold feels he has much of Gase’s offense down. Gase agreed, saying he saw plenty of development from Darnold from the first offseason practice to the last, and that he just expects him to get more comfortable in it.
“He works hard,” Gase said. “He puts his head down, he grinds, he does extra, he asks the right questions when he’s on the field. There is no change of speed. Whatever he’s got, he’s giving it. When you’re around a guy like that, it’s exciting to work with him, every day show up and see what he’s got for you the next day, what’s he going to bring.”
That’s how Darnold feels about Gase. After spending last season playing for defensive-minded Todd Bowles, Darnold has an offense-oriented coach who has made a quick impact on the organization.
“His personality’s great,” Darnold said. “The whole building you can sense almost a rebirth. The whole building’s very energized. There’s a lot of energy within the building, a lot of good vibes. For us, it’s feeding off of that. As long as you have that good energy, we can win with that.”