By Brad Carroll
The day New York Jets fans have waited for in what seems like forever is finally here. Tonight the Jets take on the Atlanta Falcons in the first preseason game of the season, and while that fact alone would elicit a yawn in terms of significance, this, as Jets fans know, is much, much different. Tonight, the Jets and their fans get to see prized draft pick and possible franchise quarterback Sam Darnold in game action for the first time.
Nothing will match the first time Darnold takes the field for real in green and white, but this first step is a gigantic moment for a quarterback-starved franchise that is hoping beyond hope the years, decades, of waiting for that one special player is over.
Darnold won’t win or lose the starting job with his performance tonight, but it certainly won’t hurt if he plays well and gives fans an early shot of hope. Just as Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield did Thursday against the Giants for Browns fans. Now, if Darnold is better than Mayfield was, there would be pandemonium in MetLife Stadium.
Needless to write, this preseason game is unlike the rest.
While Darnold is the one player who will get the most attention, there are still other things that should grab your attention against the Falcons. Here are the three biggest things to watch for as the Jets open their 2018 preseason schedule.
Suck For Sam? Now It’s Win For Sam
A minuscule amount of Jets fans want Josh McCown to be the opening day starting quarterback for the Jets. A lot more are hoping Teddy Bridgewater rediscovers his old form and grabs the starting job this preseason, giving the Jets their best chance at reaching the postseason. But most are and should be hoping Darnold is the Week 1 starting quarterback. There’s no reason to wait, so there is no doubt who, on paper, should win the job. But Darnold has to earn it, and he will get the chance to do that in the preseason. If he lights it up over the next three or four games, he’s the guy. If he doesn’t, well, then the Jets and their fans will likely have to wait until at least midseason to get a serious look at the rookie from Southern Cal. Darnold gets his first opportunity to win the job tonight. No decision will be made after the game, even if Darnold throws four touchdown passes, but a solid performance will give head coach Todd Bowles a shot of confidence that, yes, he can play a rookie at quarterback. Plus, for Jets fans, they need this. Darnold likely gets the second half, and fans will stick around to watch him. Hopefully Darnold rewards those fans and those watching at home. Browns fans have to be thinking today that Mayfield is their guy. It would be beyond exciting if Darnold did the same tonight. It's long overdue for the Jets and their fans.
It’s All About The Quarterbacks
Well, not all of them, but after Darnold’s debut, everyone will be watching Teddy Bridgewater’s first action as a Jet. His play tonight, which might equal nearly a half of football, is important on a number of levels. 1. He can prove he’s healthy again and ready to return to his previous status as an up-and-coming franchise-caliber QB. 2. He could take the first step in winning (or losing) the starting quarterback competition this summer. 3. He could prove he’s healthy and productive enough to generate trade interest from a quarterback-needy team, where the Jets could flip him for a draft pick. All three reasons make Bridgewater a player to watch against Atlanta.
Can Jets Ever Get A Pass Rush?
We all know the Jets haven’t been able to consistently get to the quarterback since John Abraham was on the team, and how long ago was that? Shaun Ellis and Mo Wilkerson had their moments, but neither was the type of player you could count on to disrupt the offensive backfield. The Jets need a pass rush and their quest to find one continues this season. Could that come from rookie defensive end Nathan Shepherd? The Jets and the fanbase certainly hope so, as if he becomes what people believe he can be, that secondary, already improved greatly with the addition of cornerback Trumaine Johnson, will be able to shut down even the most potent aerial assaults, namely the Patriots and Tom Brady. It’s a tall order, and while we won’t get any definitive answers as to how the pass rush will develop tonight, it would be nice to see a preview of what it could be and what Shepherd brings to the team.