FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The grizzled veteran. The comeback kid. The hotshot rookie.
The New York Jets’ quarterback competition is an intriguing mix of experience, charisma and hype with Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold all going for the starting job this summer.
And any of the three could end up under center when the regular season begins in September.
“It’s a fun room to be a part of,” McCown said Tuesday as the Jets’ three-day minicamp began. “Just personally because of the character of those guys, but also professionally because of how they approach their job and what they bring to the table.”
McCown is the incumbent starter, so he entered offseason workouts as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart.
All three got work with the starting offense Tuesday. McCown, who turns 39 on July 4, got the bulk of the snaps with the starters in team drills. But he’s also well aware that he’s not the future of the franchise. That label would go to the 21-year-old Darnold, who was the No. 3 overall pick out of USC.
Darnold got the most overall snaps during the team periods and showed his usual quick release, including a terrific pass that zipped past defenders and into the hands of tight end Eric Tomlinson for a touchdown. He was also nearly intercepted by rookie Parry Nickerson on a throw intended for tight end Jordan Leggett.
Some really good moments and some not-so-great moments for Darnold. But he has shown steady improvement in the short time he has been with the Jets.
“Every day, I feel like he goes out and gets better,” McCown said. “I think for all of us, but particularly young players, you’re discovering something new every time you step on the field. … Being that’s the stage he’s in, he’s learning a lot about these plays and the ins and outs of them, so he’s done a good job with that.”
Darnold will certainly have the chance to win the job, but he insists that’s not his focus at the moment.
“That’s not up to me,” Darnold said. “It’s really a coaching decision. I’m going to come in here and work every single day. I’m just going to work and grow to be the best quarterback I can be and help this team do well.”
When asked if he believes that opportunity is within his grasp, the rookie said all the right things — again.
“Yeah, I mean, I would say anything is possible,” Darnold said. “I think I’m capable of a lot of things. But, again, that’s not up for me to decide.”
Coach Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates certainly will have plenty to consider in two months, when the competition really shapes up.
McCown is the wise, old sage — a veteran leader whose even-keeled approach and overall positive vibe played key roles in keeping New York’s locker room a united group despite a 5-11 season. If McCown, who is also coming off a career-best season, is the best of the three quarterbacks, the Jets will have no problem starting him against Detroit on Sept. 10.
But if Darnold continues progressing at this rate through training camp and the preseason, and shows he’s at least even with the veterans, it could be him from Week 1.
“His learning is outstanding,” Bowles said. “The process and the steps which he’s taken, he’s been very steady. We’re very pleased with him.”
Bridgewater can’t be ruled out, however, especially with the way he has looked throughout the offseason.
The 25-year-old quarterback who signed a one-year deal with the Jets is still working his way back from a severe knee injury that threatened his career nearly two years ago. But he has shown no ill effects or limitations in the non-contact practices while wearing a brace on his left knee. Bridgewater has also looked good commanding the offense, including making some throws on the run.
That very fact seemed almost impossible on Aug. 30, 2016, when Bridgewater — then with the Vikings — went down with a non-contact injury to his knee. He had torn the anterior cruciate ligament and had other structural damage, including a dislocated knee joint.
“It was scary,” Bridgewater recalled. “But at the end of the day, I was still breathing.”
Minnesota teammates took knees and prayed on the field when the quarterback was hurt that day, but Bridgewater was proud of himself for keeping his emotions together. Last November, he was back on the sideline with the Vikings and in uniform, and he couldn’t control his emotions that day.
“This game means a lot to me,” Bridgewater said. “I’ve been playing football since I was 5 years old, and it brought tears to my eyes because it showed me that you’re never out of it. You’re never out of the fight.”
The comeback continues with the Jets, who have had quite a few quarterback competitions over the years. This one, however, could set the franchise up for years to come.
“We’re all at a little bit different stages in our career,” McCown said. “But we’re all wanting the same thing. And that’s, A, for the quarterbacks of the Jets to play productive football and play good football. But also for each guy individually to do so, and I think we root for that. … We know that when we compete and a guy’s playing well, it’s going to bring the best out of the other two guys.
“Ultimately, that’s great for the quarterbacks room because the other two guys get better, but also it’s better for the Jets.”
(© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)