The Jets are heaping praise on the shoulders of their prized rookie quarterback, but to them it's more than just dreamy hype. They're not just trying to sell everyone on the promise of Sam Darnold. They believe it. In fact, so far he's been even better than they expected.
That's why he has "a real chance" to be the opening day starter, according to a team source.
The 21-year-old Darnold has been that good since the Jets took him with the third overall pick in the NFL Draft. They've been giving him regular first-team reps throughout the spring and through this week's three-day mini-camp. And given how well he's handled them, this summer he can expect even more.
Now, there's a long way to go until opening day, and his chances of beating out both Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater by Sept. 10 won't truly be clear until the Jets see how he performs in preseason games. But they're not just giving him first-team reps to test him or help his development.
He's getting them so they can see if he's really ready to start in Week 1.
"The question was: Are we giving him bits and pieces of the offense or are we throwing everything at him?" said Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates. "We're throwing everything at him. If he can handle it, if he can prove that he is a starter, then that would take place when the time comes."
Even after the Jets lucked into Darnold in the draft -- when the Browns surprisingly took Baker Mayfield first and the Giants passed on all quarterbacks to take Saquon Barkley at No. 2 -- they weren't sure how quickly that time would come. Their "Plan B" at quarterback, after whiffing on free agent Kirk Cousins, was to ride with the 38-year-old McCown and have him mentor whomever they drafted. Some in the organization even thought that if he turned out to be healthy, the 25-year-old Bridgewater would be next in line.
But Darnold, the No. 1 quarterback on the Jets' draft board, has opened everyone's eyes to the possibility of an earlier start to The Darnold Era than anyone expected. It's only been seven weeks, but he's handled everything the Jets have thrown at him. And really, so far, they've thrown a lot.
"We threw the whole playbook at him," Bates said. "Just like the same with Josh (McCown) and Teddy (Bridgewater). If you treat them like a rookie, they will become a rookie. We threw the whole book at him to see what he can handle, what he needs to work on."
The result of that information overload hasn't been perfect. Darnold, understandably, has made some mistake. "But he doesn't make them twice," Bates said.
"It's extremely important," he added. "If you keep making the mistake over and over, then either we're not coaching the right way or teaching the right way or their just not getting it. But no, he's able to go watch himself on film and see what he did wrong and move forward. That is the process of growing and that's exciting."
And that's why there's a growing belief in the organization that Darnold's time is coming quickly. Jets head coach Todd Bowles announced on Thursday that Darnold will enter training camp on July 26 as the third-string quarterback, behind McCown and then Bridgewater. But he left the door wide open for a change in the order this summer when he added "We'll see what happens at the end of training camp."
In the end, maybe McCown will hold off the rookie, in which case the veteran might hold onto the job as long as he's healthy and there's life in the Jets' playoff chase. But it's an open question now because the Jets know Darnold is a rising star, and this spring has made them surer of that than ever. If he's their best quarterback, they've always been open to the idea of starting him.
With what they've seen this spring, though, that may not be much of a longshot anymore.