Now that Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold is finally under contract, the highly-anticipated quarterback battle at training camp is underway. And former Jets coach Rex Ryan believes if Darnold looks ready over the next month of work, there is no question he should be under center Week 1.
"If the kid is ready, play him," Ryan told ESPN's Rich Cimini. "Why would you stunt his growth?"
It will ultimately be up to current Jets head coach Todd Bowles to make the decision after watching Darnold, Josh McCown, and Teddy Bridgewater battle it out. But Ryan has been in this position before with his own USC rookie.
Mark Sanchez came to the Jets back in 2009, and at the end of camp, Ryan named him his Week 1 starter. That's why Ryan can't see Bowles not starting Darnold if he looks NFL-ready.
"I have a feeling the rookie will start, in my opinion, from Day 1," Ryan said. "I would be shocked if he doesn't start."
Analyzing Darnold, Ryan likes what he sees except for one thing -- his mechanics. He points out a hitch that Darnold has in his throwing motion, which causes a slower delivery than other quarterbacks.
But that can be coached out of his system, right? Ryan doesn't think it's that simple.
"The only thing I didn't like about him college was his mechanics" he said. "I think he is a slow-delivery guy and that scares me in this league. A lot of guys will say, 'Yeah, but we can coach that out.' Bulls---."
Former NFL quarterback and now current analyst, Dan Orlovsky, has studied Darnold thoroughly this offseason. He doesn't see the hitch in Darnold's throwing motion being too much of a factor in slowing down his game.
"Could it hurt him? Yes. Do I think it will? No," he said. "Here are my reasons why: When USC did a lot of their quick-game stuff, I was really impressed. When that ball needs to get out, it gets out. The motion is unique, but the ball, timing-wise, is just as quick as any other guy coming out. The ball gets out fast. He's got that quick-twitch wrist flick."
Orlovsky is also impressed with the way Darnold can dissect a play, and if it doesn't work out, he can make decisions on the fly. It may not be the way it's drawn up on paper, but the results that follow are the same.
"I call it magical sloppiness, where he's just got this unique trait that I think he was born with and developed playing all kind of sports," Orlovsky explained. "He can just make some things happen with his body and with his arm angles. You can't drill that stuff."
So, he's got the unteachable traits in his game, and his hitch may be a hindrance but tape shows it hasn't been in the past. The only question left is if he can be a great signal-caller in the NFL, which is a highly important task for a quarterback. Being able to dissect defenses and make the appropriate audibles if need be is crucial for any offense.
Good thing Orlovsky sees Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates system as "quarterback-friendly."
"They don't ask a lot out of their quarterbacks, intellectually, at the line of scrimmage," Orlovsky said. "People use the term 'quarterback-friendly.' There's not a ton of pre-snap [responsibilities]. They put a lot of burden on the offensive line."
Darnold's competition won't make it a cake walk to win the starting job. McCown has already said he is there to mentor the young quarterback, but he is also on the Jets to play. Bridgewater is looking to make a miraculous comeback following a brutal knee injury more than a season and a half ago.
But, at the end of the day, Ryan still sees Darnold beating them out if he can show the Jets this preseason that he is ready to lead the team.
"Why wouldn't you start him?" Ryan questioned. "All three are decent quarterbacks, but McCown has been a journeyman his whole life. What are you going to get there? I mean, forget it. I mean, it's Bridgewater or the rookie. If he has a good preseason, why not start the rookie?"