Sam Darnold talks Jets, terrible mono bout, Mekhi Becton
With the Jets’ season set to kick off Sunday, QB Sam Darnold huddles by phone with Post columnist Steve Serby for some Q&A.
Q: Will you be able to see over Mekhi Becton?
A: (Laugh) Yes. We’ve established that already, got a couple of practices together, so yeah, we figured that out.
Q: What is the most physical play you’ve seen him make?
A: I think whenever him and [left guard] Alex [Lewis] double-team someone, and then he just runs up to a linebacker and just crushes him. I think those plays are the most fun to watch for a quarterback at least, watch it on tape.
Q: How comforting is it having someone that size and that ability as your left tackle?
A: Very comforting.
Q: Why is it fun being quarterback of a New York professional football team?
A: First of all, I think playing football in general is always fun (laugh), and then adding on to being in New York and having a fan base like we have — there’s no other fans like the Jets fans. We’re long overdue for a winning season, so I think we all just kind of owe it to the fans, obviously our organization as well, but our fans are diehards. Before games — obviously we’re not gonna be able to do this this year — but before games being able to hang out with the fans and talk to ’em a little bit, and after the games, sign autographs and talk to the fans there. That’s something I’ve always dreamt of as a kid, and the fans in New York make it that much more amazing to do that.
Q: Does it increase your urgency that the Jets have not made the playoffs in nine straight years and have not won a Super Bowl since 1969?
A: I think for us, we’re focused on making sure that we do everything that we can every single day to best the team that we’re going against that week. Obviously, if we just continue to do that, it will add up, but we can’t be focused on those kind of things, obviously we’re aware of it. And like I just said, we’re aware of how hungry these fans are, but as players we’re hungry too. We want to win. … We want to win now, but we understand that we gotta take it one day at a time.
Q: How do you deal with the pressures and responsibility of a franchise quarterback?
A: I think for me it really stems from having a good family and to be able to talk to them if I feel like I ever need to, to be able to have those friends and teammates that I count on, that I lean on, if I’m ever feeling a lot of pressure. And coaches as well to be able to talk to. We got a good group here, and I got a good family and a good group of friends to be able to lean on.
Q: Fill in the blank: As a quarterback, I live for …
A: Playing football.
Q: Tell me why a 65 percent completion percentage is realistic for you this season.
A: I love the system. This system is based on finding completions no matter where you are on the field, no matter what the defense brings pressure-wise or coverage-wise. So I think it’s very realistic.
Q: How much of a quicker decision-maker do you expect to be this year?
A: I think the ball’s definitely gonna come out a little faster. I think you’re gonna see a little more confidence in terms of throwing the football. I think it’s gonna be a really good year. Obviously we gotta take it one game at a time though.
Q: “Ghosts.” When you think back to that night against the Patriots, what do you think of?
A: Getting our butts kicked.
Q: Do you regret saying the word ghosts?
A: No, no, I don’t regret that. I was just communicating kind of how I was feeling at the time on the field. And, I think, whatever people wanted to say or memes that people (chuckle) wanted to create after that, that kind of came with it. I think there were some of ’em that I actually laughed at.
Q: It sounds like you’re not expecting a game where you see ghosts this year.
A: (Laugh) Yeah, hopefully not. I don’t envision that at all.
Q: Define leadership at the quarterback position.
A: I think leadership at the quarterback position is just making sure that, first of all, that guys can trust me to do the right thing on every single play, and it really starts outside the building. If I don’t have a good relationship with all the guys, then I don’t think they’d be able to trust me to get them the ball on a big third down, you know? So I think it goes hand-in-hand.
Q: What do you insist that your huddle is like during games?
A: Uh, quiet (laugh). As long as the huddle is quiet and they’re listening to me, everything goes well.
Q: Do you ever get angry in the huddle?
A: No. I never get angry. I get hyped up every now and then just wanting to go down there and score on a big third down, third-and-short, trying to get the O-line hyped up to go convert.
Q: What is your funniest huddle moment as a Jet?
A: If someone cracks a joke or someone says something that you’re not necessarily expecting to come from them, that’s gonna be where the funny moments come out.
Q: What’s the best joke you’ve cracked?
A: I got a bunch of bad jokes. I think I’ll keep that inside the huddle. Maybe when I’m mic’d up, you guys might be able to hear some of ’em.
Q: Are you a battlefield commander?
A: Yeah. If things are heated, I feel like I get good sense of the guys in the huddle and I’m able to calm everyone down. Like I said, if it’s third-and-short, I need the guys to be ready to frickin’ go and knock someone off the ball and get that one yard. I feel comfortable doing that, too.
Q: Much has been made of Daniel Jones adding 10 pounds of muscle. Did you reshape your body in any way over the offseason?
A: No. … I feel like sometimes during the course of the season you can lack focus on those certain things that you keep your body right, and for me that’s gonna be a big point of emphasis this season is spending extra time on my body to make sure that I don’t lose what I gained during the offseason.
Q: When you think back to your first Opening Day, 2018 at Detroit, what do you think of?
A: Pick-six on the first play (laugh). And then, obviously coming back from that [for a 48-17 win].
Q: And how about postgame, with your parents there outside the visiting locker room at Ford Field?
A: Just embracing ’em. My mom saying, “Hey, proud of you.” Dad saying, “I love you,” as I got on the bus. That was definitely a moment I won’t forget.
Q: Describe your second Opening Day last year, a 17-16 loss to the Bills.
A: Besides the obvious, just kind of going in and we got up 16-0, I feel like we got a little loose, lackadaisical, maybe. We gotta keep the right mindset of continue to put our pedal on the gas pedal no matter what.
Q: Were you feeling any effects of mono at that point?
A: You know what? I know I didn’t get great sleep the couple of nights before that. I couldn’t figure out why. I normally don’t get sick or nervous before games. I just kind of thought like, “Hey, what’s going on here? Like why do I feel this way?” After the game I felt like crap.
Q: How much of a personal nightmare was that for you having mono and not being able to play football?
A: It sucked. It sucked.
Q: Does Adam Gase seem different in any way to you?
A: No, I think Adam’s always gonna be himself, and that’s the best part about him. He doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. He’s gonna prepare really, really hard to make the best game plan for us, and in return we’re gonna go out there and execute, that’s how it is.
Q: What are your thoughts on Le’Veon Bell?
A: He’s gonna have a really big impact for us this year.
Q: How much of a weapon can he be in the passing game?
A: He can be a huge weapon. We see it in practice all the time. I think it just comes down to us executing during the games. If we can do that, we’ll be all right.
Q: Frank Gore?
A: He doesn’t say a ton, but he’s just a hard worker, and he leads by example. That’s just what he does, and he’s gonna continue to do that for however much longer he decides to play football.
Q: Denzel Mims?
A: He’s gotta worry about getting healthy and making sure that he knows his stuff. As long as he continues to work hard, I feel like the sky’s the limit for him.
Q: Chris Herndon?
A: He’s always a huge weapon for us. For him as well, he’s just gotta stay healthy. As long as he can do that, he’s gonna make big plays for us.
Q: What things have you missed most during this pandemic?
A: I don’t know, I think just being able to do normal things. … Like being able to go out to a restaurant and have a nice meal, and be able to hang out with my teammates without having to worry about who else is around.
Q: Some teams will have a limited number of fans in their stadium. For now, the Jets won’t have any. Do you think that’s a competitive disadvantage?
A: It just depends how many fans that they’re allowed to have in. I know that we’re allowed to pump in crowd noise and stuff like that. I guess it’s just gonna be something that we kind of find out and adapt to.
Q: Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Bowl championship once upon a time. If and when you’re in that position, on the brink of one, do you think you would ever guarantee a Super Bowl win?
A: I think it’s a different day and age. There’s too much superstition nowadays as well (chuckle), so yeah, I think for us, I would probably just say it takes one day at a time, and we gotta go out here and have a good practice (laugh).
Q: What was most eye-opening to you during the social justice and equality discussions you had as Jets listening to your black teammates?
A: What some of my teammates went through as kids, and what they teach their kids now, it’s just different from what I was raised up to believe and what I’m gonna teach my kids. I’ve always grown up, when I see a policeman, I’m thinking, “OK, I’m safe.” Whereas my teammates grew up thinking, “Oh, shoot, there’s a policeman, make sure that I’m doing everything right so he doesn’t approach me, or do something that I wouldn’t want.” The mindset of black people in America seeing a policeman and feeling safe, until that’s a reality for them, that’s when we won’t have to worry about just kind of what we’ve been talking about these last however long this has been going on.
Q: What message would you want to give to Jets fans?
A: We weren’t sure whether or not the season was gonna happen or not. But everyone in the locker room, everyone on the coaching staff has done everything that they can to prepare for the season, and now that it’s here, I think the fans can really look forward to all of our hard work coming together and it’s coming to fruition. I think we’ve all worked so hard and we’ve all put in so much time together to be able to go out there and execute and win football games. And I think that’s what the fans are gonna see.
Q: Would you feel unfulfilled if you never won a Super Bowl?
A: Um … yeah.
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