Jets' Darnold tunes out Lawrence talk, focuses on return

Sam Darnold knows what people are talking about these days.

It's in the newspapers and all over the internet. And, on TV and sports radio.

The struggling New York Jets are 0-6 and currently hold the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft next April. That puts them on a potential collision course with Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence — and leaves Darnold's future with the franchise uncertain.

“I have social media and I've seen some of the things," Darnold said Thursday. “But we've got a game to win this week and that's all we're worried about.”

Darnold, who has missed the last two games with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder, has been focused on getting back under center for the Jets. There's optimism he could be ready to play against Buffalo on Sunday, but that's still to be determined.

Just like Darnold's status beyond this season.

Many fans and media say it would be an easy decision for the Jets to take Lawrence — if he doesn't return to school — and move on from Darnold after three seasons. All that chatter and speculation is far from Darnold's mind, and it's something he's somehow able to tune out.

“For me, that's out of my control, you know?” Darnold said. “I'm here to do my best and help this team win games. That's all I can do. With that, it's preparing every single day as hard as I can and going out to practice and trying to have the best practice I can.”

Darnold was hurt during the Jets' loss to Denver on Oct. 1 and left briefly before returning and finishing. He has been sidelined since, with Joe Flacco filling in while Darnold heals and recovers.

Darnold practiced on a limited basis Wednesday for the first time since the injury, and again Thursday — giving him and the Jets hope he'll be able to play Sunday.

“I thought I did a good job today,” Darnold said. "A couple balls, I'd like to have back. But other than that, I thought it was a good day. We executed well and I thought my timing was good.

“And, yeah, there's a little bit of pain, but it's nothing crazy. I feel like I'm capable of dealing with it.”

Both coach Adam Gase and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains echoed Darnold's comments, saying they saw good things the past two practices. But they stressed that they wouldn't set any expectations on the quarterback, wanting to be sure he's ready to play before putting him into a game.

Once Darnold is back and playing, the ever-present evaluations of him will continue.

He was off to a slow start before his shoulder injury, but that's reflective of Gase's offense as a whole. The Jets rank last or close to last in many offensive categories, and there have been multiple injuries to key skill players and offensive linemen.

“I think there was some games where it’s almost unfair to judge him because you can see he’s trying to make plays,” Gase said. “Some of these games have been hard to really put on him and evaluate him because it’s survival mode — because of what’s going on injury-wise.”

Loggains said Darnold's talent has flashed at times and insisted the Jets have seen progress. He also scoffed at the notion anyone can have a definitive read on what Darnold is — or what his ceiling might be.

“I absolutely think Sam is getting better,” Loggains said. "I don't think it's fair to evaluate him at this point. But we know the nature of the beast and he understands the nature of the beast. In this business, you're judged on production and winning at quarterback. That's the bottom line. He understands that as well. We need to start coaching better. We need to start playing better around him.

"Sam is the least of our worries around here."

Meanwhile, Darnold remains steady, an even-keeled approach that made him so coveted by NFL teams before the Jets drafted him with the No. 3 overall pick in 2018. He just wants to get back on the field and play better. And lead the Jets to an elusive victory.

“I don't think I've played well enough to win,” Darnold said. “That's just shooting it straight. We haven't won any games yet, so, obviously I haven't played well enough.”

NOTES: WR Jamison Crowder (groin), K Sam Ficken (right groin), LB Tarell Basham (non-COVID-19 illness), G Alex Lewis (shoulder) and RB Frank Gore (rest day) didn't practice. Crowder and Ficken were downgraded after being limited Wednesday. Sergio Castillo would be promoted from the practice squad if Ficken can't play. ... LT Mekhi Becton (shoulder), OL Chuma Edoga (calf) and RT George Fant (knee) were limited. Fant's injury was a new addition, apparently occurring during practice Thursday. ... WR Breshad Perriman was a full participant after being limited with ankle and knee issues.

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