New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws the ball during New York Jets rookie mini camp at Atlantic Health Training Center.

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Palladino: Darnold Has Bowles Smiling, But Rougher Times Lie Ahead For Prized QB

Training Camp Will Be True First Test For Rookie

Ernie Palladino
June 01, 2018 - 9:08 am
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All sorts of happy faces dotted the landscape at the Jets’ voluntary practices this week, from those applauding interim owner Chris Johnson’s decision to stand (or kneel?) by his anthem-protesting players, to those who observed wide receiver Quincy Enunwa’s steady re-emergence from neck surgery.

The biggest smiles came from the coaching staff who noticed a distinct change in Sam Darnold from a rather rough first week. Coach Todd Bowles praised his poise in taking a unit-leading 20 snaps Tuesday, throwing some good passes, one notable clunker, but otherwise showing a solid command of the passing tree.

And that’s all well and good. It’s exactly what a coach wants to see, especially from a young quarterback on whom they just spent the third overall draft pick in April.

But Bowles knows better than to get too far ahead of his own enthusiasm for the kid.

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So should we.

As “comfortable” as the coach claimed Darnold looked, he has miles to go before he shows any definitive evidence that Mike Maccagnan made a correct choice in taking him over the two other studs -- Josh Rosen and Josh Allen -- who remained after the Browns dubiously grabbed Baker Mayfield at No. 1 overall.

It comes down to this. As good as any rookie might look in OTAs, no one can say for certain that he’s got the goods until training camp, when the pajamas of spring get replaced by the pads of summer. It’s during that time of contact that a kid gets to show his real self and either separate from the pack or fall back into it for more seasoning past Kickoff Weekend.

All the completions of these OTAs mean nothing once the pads go on, and for various reasons. Right now, players on both sides of the ball learn the rudiments of the offensive and defensive systems. But the real learning, and by extension the wall virtually every rookie experiences as the nuances of the playbook overloads the mental wiring, only starts in training camp.

Study time gets compressed. Things move faster on the field.

Think of it as a rock rolling down the hill. In the spring, it moves slowly, its pace fairly harmless. By training camp, it has picked up its pace and is roaring downward, gathering other rocks with it to create an avalanche.

Darnold hasn’t experienced that avalanche yet. He’s not alone, either. Note the happy talk coming from the Giants’ own No. 1 pick, Saquon Barkley. He has looked like a monster in OTAs. He has proclaimed things have come easily for him so far.

Great. But let’s see how easy things stay once summer hits and the defensive linemen and linebackers start swatting at that ball, or the holes start closing quicker during full-contact goal-line drills that spring rules deem verboten. Or the defensive linemen run a twist that baffles him on a blitz pickup.

He may hit a valley or two.

That’s expected. It’s not about a steady rise. It’s about overall improvement.

Bowles is right about one thing: Darnold can only benefit from the tips fellow QBs Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater impart. He had best listen well, if only because he’ll need those cues as he fathoms the depths of the playbook in July.

Only then will he show himself as either a Day 1 starter or a temporary backup to McCown or Bridgewater.

As of now, it’s way too early to tell.

But it’s nice that he’s put a smile on Bowles’ face.

Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino