FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — If everything runs smoothly, Sam Darnold should be at the line of scrimmage with 15 to 20 seconds remaining on the play clock. This gives him time to survey the defense. Man or zone? Blitz? If he picks up a tell, he should have enough time to make an adjustment before the snap.
“The more time the quarterback can see, the more time he has to get the keys to the test — the answers to the test,” offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said Thursday.
The New York Jets rookie experienced some hiccups early in the season, so much so that it prompted internal discussions on possible ways in which they could streamline the communication process. No dramatic changes were made, as it turned out. Darnold has picked up the tempo on his own, an indication he’s becoming more comfortable in his role as the offensive leader.
Bates said the tempo in last Sunday’s 34-16 victory over the Denver Broncos was “extremely good.” The numbers back it up, as the Jets averaged one play every 28.4 seconds (game clock), according to ESPN Stats & Information. In Week 1, the average was 33.7 seconds. It’s a good comparison because the games were similar in that the Jets fell behind 7-0, then took control and cruised to an easy victory.
The Jets’ first-half average vs. Denver was 24.4 seconds, easily their fastest first half of the season. Based on a 40-second play clock, it means Darnold got to the line of scrimmage with about 16 seconds to go.
“The goal is 15 to 20 seconds,” Bates said. “Anytime it gets lower than that, now all of a sudden, stress happens and you’re creating anxiety that’s not needed.”
This a new deal for Darnold, who played a lot of no-huddle in college. It sounds crazy, but one of his adjustments in minicamp was learning to call plays in a huddle after receiving them via the headset. Such is the current landscape for quarterbacks making the jump from college to the NFL.
In Darnold’s case, he had to learn the West Coast offense, which features notoriously wordy play calls. One play call can be a dozen words. It’s so long because it includes the formation, shifts, protection scheme and pass routes/run plays. In the preseason, Darnold fumbled an occasional play in the huddle, according to teammates.
As he gains experience, Darnold will spit them out quicker and get his teammates in and out of the huddle in due time. If he’s looking for a role model, he can study his counterpart Sunday at MetLife Stadium. With Andrew Luck at the controls, the Indianpolis Colts are operating the quickest attack in the league — one play every 23.8 seconds — 5.3 seconds faster than the Jets’ season average.
“From watching him in the past, he’s such a bright dude and you can see how he takes that to the football field,” Darnold said of Luck.
Darnold, a California native who grew up a fan of the Pac-12 Conference, remembers watching Luck at Stanford. Even then, as a high school freshman, he was impressed.
“It was really fun to watch and really cool to see Andrew Luck dissect defenses at such a young age,” he said. “It was really fun and kind of inspiring to me.”
On Sunday, Darnold, all grown up, gets a chance to face Luck. Time flies.