Sam Darnold must now prove why he’s Jets’ franchise quarterback

Even in normal times, there would be question marks surrounding these Adam Gase Jets. There will be a rebuilt offensive line blocking for Sam Darnold, and a pair of new receivers catching passes from Sam Darnold, and maybe more holes and yards from Le’Veon Bell while coordinator Gregg Williams’ defense keeps hope alive.

And it means that as he prepares to enter his third season, it is time for Sam Darnold to be the constant, the least of all Jets concerns, the unshakeable rock …

The franchise quarterback he was drafted to be.

The heaven-sent pilot who lifts the Jets, with his arm, with his legs, with his leadership, with the sheer force of his personality.

It is what franchise quarterbacks — even young ones — are expected to do.

It is what Patrick Mahomes did for the Super Bowl champion Chiefs last season, what Lamar Jackson did for the Ravens.

Mahomes and Jackson had better teams around them, but that isn’t the point.

The Jets will go as Sam Darnold goes is the point.

And it is go-time for Sam Darnold, one month shy of his 23rd birthday.

Don’t let Josh Allen’s Bills beat you to the playoffs a second straight time.

No more mono this season.

No more ghosts.

GM Joe Douglas was adamant about getting you protection and playmakers. And now there is pressure on you to prove him right.

Pressure on you to make what surely won’t be an elite offensive line — as thrilled as you are to have rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton blocking out the sun — better than average. Pressure on you to throw open what on paper still looks like a pedestrian group of receivers, and who knows whether tight end Chris Herndon will stay healthy?

“For me, it’s always been about playing as hard and as good as I can no matter what the circumstances are,” Darnold said. “So from my end, nothing’s gonna change.”

Sam DarnoldPaul J. Bereswill

Nothing has to change with Darnold’s approach or mentality. He’s made of the right stuff, same guy every day and all that.

Success won’t spoil him.

But it’s time for success.

“I’ve been working on throwing to the right a little bit more,” Darnold said. “I feel like sometimes when I throw to my right, it’s all arm, so I’ve been looking into trying to step into my throws and use more of my body and my legs going to my right. And then, just continue to work on deep-ball accuracy is huge for me. I feel like I left a couple of opportunities out there on the field last year and I’m looking to hit those throws this year.”

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Darnold — 36 touchdowns and 28 interceptions in his two-year career, including 19-13 last season — has started 26 games. He started from Day 1 as a rookie. This is his team. He is this team’s leader. More now than ever. Virtually or otherwise.

“As I grow and mature and continue to be the quarterback for this organization,” Darnold said, “I’m just gonna continue to mold into the leader that I’m gonna become.”

He endured a 2019 quarantine for mono and the experience toughened him in retrospect.

“Anytime you go through anything like that, any type of adversity, it helps you,” Darnold said.

Now he is on the other coast, isolated from his team and teammates because of COVID-19.

“I’m not taking this time for granted,” Darnold said. “Every single second counts.”

Every single day counts. Because Darnold can no longer throw the kind of careless red-zone interceptions he threw in that rock-bottom defeat in Miami last November, when he threw the ball up for grabs at the Dolphins 2-yard line up to avoid a sack.

“There’s definitely room to grow,” Darnold said. “Throughout the back half of the season, I thought I improved on a lot of things. I felt I got more consistent and was able to get more comfortable with the offense, so I think there’s obviously room to be better for this next year. For myself, I’m just trying to be as consistent as possible and play at a high level.”

He threw 13 touchdowns against four interceptions during the Jets’ 6-2 second half.

“We definitely have the guys to be able to win football games,” Darnold said. “But as we see every year, it’s about putting everything together.”

And as we see every year, it’s about the franchise quarterback, more than anyone else, putting everything together.

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