Spinnin’ Sam: Jets’ Darnold tossing passes with more zip

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Sam Darnold

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold throws during practice at the NFL football team’s training camp in Florham Park, N.J., Thursday, July 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The football seems to be spinning better — and, faster — out of Sam Darnold’s right hand this summer.

Well, it’s no optical illusion or training camp exaggeration.

The New York Jets quarterback worked on getting stronger entering his second NFL season. And the results have been noticeable.

“It just comes with confidence,” Darnold said Monday. “Confidence in going out there and knowing that I can do this. It’s not that I didn’t know that last year, it’s just with this offense, I feel like I already know most of it, so I’m just going out and spinning it, whereas last year I was still not super comfortable with all the guys and getting in the huddle, feeling timid and I wasn’t really myself.

“So I think this year, now that I’m more of stepping into that leadership role, I guess you could say, I’m definitely a lot more comfortable and confident in myself.”

Darnold has had a solid camp so far, showing a nice touch on the majority of his throws while making good plays — and decisions — on a regular basis.

“Yeah, it looks like he does have more velocity this year,” said coach Adam Gase, who watched Darnold from the other sideline in Miami last year. “That’s just from my perspective. I don’t think I realized how strong his arm was.”

Granted, the Jets don’t play a game until Thursday night against the Giants in the preseason opener. But there appears to be a jump in Darnold’s development, especially considering where he was at this time a year ago as a wide-eyed rookie.

And the added zip on his passes is the biggest giveaway.

“It was interesting because a lot of people in the spring were saying that to me, that it looked like he was throwing the ball with a lot more velocity,” Gase said. “And I do remember him saying that last season, it was like arm fatigue in the spring and then in training camp and as the season went on.”

Working off that experience, Darnold entered the offseason with a different approach to keep his arm fresh while also building strength.

The 22-year-old appears slimmer but more muscular, the result of increased cardio workouts to keep his heart rate up. Darnold also focused on his hips — an area he thinks has directly affected his arm.

“I’m just continuing to lift and get stronger that way, but I think a lot of it stems from my hips,” he said. “I’ve been working on my hip strength, my hip flexibility throughout this offseason and throughout training camp. So as long as I just continue to work on that and continue to grind through getting my hips stronger and more flexible, but also stable, I think my arm will continue to get stronger.”

Ty Montgomery has been impressed by Darnold since signing with the Jets as a free agent in March. The former Packers and Ravens wide receiver/running back has become one of Darnold’s most frequent targets in camp.

“The dude’s got a hell of an arm,” Montgomery said. “He’s got this nice whip to ’em.”

Montgomery added that he sees “a little bit” of a comparison in Darnold to his former quarterback in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers.

“If I played quarterback, I probably wouldn’t even be able to do it,” he said. “But (Darnold’s) got this real quick flip. I’ve seen his feet set left and he throws the ball right. He’s talented, for sure.”

Darnold showed some of that last season, making plays on the run and able to make strong throws for big plays and first downs.

“I think a lot of it has to do with knowing where my arm needs to be because in the past, going through the draft and the combine and all that stuff, I was, maybe, pushing it a little too much early on because I had to,” Darnold said. “Right now, I feel great heading into the year and I’m right where I want to be.”

A lot of the focus in the offseason has been on what effect the offensive-minded Gase will have on Darnold. But the coach has raved about the youngster, saying he has never had the opportunity to coach a quarterback at this early stage in his development.

“What it’s allowed me to do is, it’s easy for me to call plays,” Gase said. “You don’t worry about, if you have a negative play, you’re ready to call the next one. He’s not the kind of quarterback you’re looking to protect. You’re kind of looking at it in terms of let him work the offense and get on the ball and use the running game to help him.

“There’s no limitations on him and it’s fun as a play caller.”

NOTES: Recently signed C Ryan Kalil worked with trainers at the beginning of practice before joining the offense and watching from the sideline. It’s uncertain when Kalil will start practicing. … DL Leonard Williams was held out with what Gase said was “irritation in his hip.” … NT Steve McLendon was excused for the day for personal reasons. … LT Kelvin Beachum (ankle) and TE Daniel Brown (hamstring) both returned.

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