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An Oral History of That Time Sam Darnold Called an Audible at Practice

Heroes live forever. Legends never settle on the initial play call.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Is Sam Darnold going to save the Jets? Who knows? Will he save … the world? It’s still too early to tell. But to all of the Jets fans out there who hope to protect themselves from the continued emotional horror that is rooting for whichever unfortunate individual has been shackled with the burden of quarterbacking this godforsaken franchise, we say: Life is too short. Darnold is audibling at practice! He’s throwing three touchdowns on a single preseason drive! His jawline could clog the Hudson River! So, rather than tempering the hysteria emanating from the Garden State, we’re diving right in. Welcome to Darnold Day!


Is Sam Darnold—Jets rookie, third overall 2018 draft pick, haver of the largest head in the tristate area—the greatest quarterback in the history of quarterbacks? Well. No. Not necessarily.

But could he be? My friends: He could.

We won’t know for sure if the Jets’ newest maybe-face-of-the-franchise is the real deal until the fall; for now, he’s still just trying to secure Week 1 starting rights over Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown. But this much, at least, is certain: On the sixth day of August in the year of our Namath two thousand and eighteen, on the quarterback’s 62nd day of legal drinking age, on the 12th day of the Jets’ preseason camp, Sam Darnold called an audible in practice that shook Jets nation to its core. Below is the beginning, perhaps, of a legend, told by some of the mortals who witnessed it: the story of a fateful afternoon pass, and a quarterback who wasn’t afraid to do what he had to.

Part I: The Buildup

Jets fans have been promised saviors at quarterback many times before. But this time, after Darnold’s late entrance to training camp due to contract negotiations, something seemed different.

Rich Cimini (ESPN): The Jets haven’t had a franchise quarterback in arguably 50 years with Joe Namath. They’ve been teased over the years with some flashes of good quarterback play—with maybe Mark Sanchez, Chad Pennington. But they’ve never really had that guy.

Manish Mehta (New York Daily News): They’ve been searching for a franchise quarterback. They obviously swung and missed with Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty. But I think everybody in this building and this organization knows that they can’t ultimately get to where they want to go until they have this position solved.

Cimini: Usually when [the Jets] have a quarterback competition, it’s, like, lame. They’re taking recycled veterans like Ryan Fitzpatrick, guys like that, and trying to turn them into, you know, quarterbacks. We build it up to be a quarterback competition when in fact it’s just guys who’ve bounced around the league. I call them Band-Aid quarterbacks. The Jets have cornered the market on Band-Aid quarterbacks.

Unknown Jets player (on Darnold’s first day of training camp): Yeehaw!

Mehta (on Twitter): Touched base with a #Jets source today about Sam Darnold.

Question: “This kid is legit, right?”

Answer: “F--- yeah.”

There you go. #JetsCamp

Cimini: I don’t think he cares about anything else besides football. He’s not gonna be on Page Six of The New York Post chasing around Hollywood starlets. I think he’s really just a blue-collar football guy. A gym rat.

Mehta (on Twitter; five days till audible): #Jets QB Sam Darnold was so good in practice. What a smart football player.

Eric Allen (senior reporter, New York Jets; on Twitter; two days till audible): You could make the argument that Sam Darold’s best throw of camp came tonight. Throwing all the way across the field, he hit TE Clive Walford along the sideline. That was a rope. #JetsCamp

New York Jets:

Cimini: So this is actually a legitimate hope for the franchise and for the fans. He’s a personable guy, he’s humble, comes from a high-profile school, had success in college, so he really checks all the boxes. So fans have got their fingers crossed that maybe this is the guy.

Mehta: To reduce it to the simplest terms, he’s got the “it” factor.

Darnold (to reporters): I’m just gonna go out there and play my game.

Jets fans (various): My son.

Part II: The Audible

There is some disagreement between people who were there about which particular play was the audible, but this much is clear: On this bright August Monday, special things were happening in New Jersey.

Connor Hughes (The Athletic; on Twitter): Sam Darnold just came to the line, read defense, and started shouting to change the play.

Why?

He read blitz. Audibled to a screen. Jets picked up 30-plus. Lucky Whitehead was running with blockers in front when coaches blew whistle.

Wow. #Jets

Mehta: On that particular play, he recognized that the defense was playing a split coverage, so everything on his left side was man-to-man coverage, and everything on his right side was zone coverage. So he called at the line of scrimmage, he recognized the play, and he wanted to go to his left, where they had a good play call designed to beat man coverage.

Darnold (to Hughes): That was just a man-zone read type of thing. One side was for man, the other side was for zone. I read man, went to the man side, but saw that [Chad Hansen] wasn’t really winning over there.

Mehta: It’s called a “man beater”; that’s how players refer to it. And after the snap, he looked to his left, and Chad Hansen, who was the wide receiver, was covered. In theory, it was a good man-beater play, but that door was closed.

Darnold: I came back because the other play that we drew up on the other side is a zone beater, but also a great man beater, too.

Mehta: In a classroom, a coach would say, “Well, what would you do on this play?” And Darnold would say, “Well, I’m gonna go to my receiver on the far left because we’ve got a man beater,” and that’s the correct answer. However, in terms of real life, what do you do when that door is closed?

Darnold: I had time to come back to that grouping, because of great protection by the offensive line and was able to find [Trent Cannon] in the corner.

Mehta: Darnold had pretty good protection, so he had an opportunity to survey the left, which was his first read. That wasn’t available. He looked to the middle of the field and there was a lot of clutter. So then in his mind he had quickly processed, well, look, they’re playing zone on the right side, we had called a zone beater on the right side. It was his fourth or fifth option on that particular play. And he did all of this within maybe one second, two seconds. And he found Trent Cannon, who’s their rookie running back, wide open, basically standing by himself on the right side.

@johwri (on Twitter): I am crying over here....he knows what he’s looking at, and smart enough to give his OL some love....is this really happening?

Mehta: In a nutshell, it tells you what Sam Darnold could be.

Darnold: It’s awesome to be able to kind of find my groove in the offense, and be able to feel comfortable and know exactly when I need to get rid of the ball. It was awesome to be able to feel that pocket around me and find [Trenton Cannon] there late as really my fourth or fifth option.

Sean Fennessey (aggrieved Jets fan): We don’t choose greatness; greatness chooses us. Unless we have omniscient pocket awareness, the vision of a mantis shrimp, and an arm made from Captain America’s shield. When Sam looked off four receivers in the third quarter of a preseason game and found Trenton Cannon at the pylon, a generation found its voice. That voice spoke clearly: I have arrived and I come bearing touchdowns.

Mehta (on Twitter): #Jets QB Sam Darnold looks so poised and fluid today. Making terrific throws on the pocket and on the move. Victimized by some drops, but it’s so obvious....

You know what I’m talking about. #JetsCamp

@PauliesSleepers (on Twitter): Honestly believe once Tom retires, the AFC East is the Jets to run with for years and years to come.

Part III: Glory

It was just a preseason practice. Darnold still wore a red jersey. But was it time to get his face, or at least however much of it would fit, tattooed across the collective backs of the tristate area?

FanSided (on Twitter): The best QB in the NFL heading into the 2018 season is ____?

The Jet Press (on Twitter): Sam Darnold

Hughes (on Twitter; one day since audible): Oh my lord ...

Beautiful 1-handed touchdown grab by Terrelle Pryor on pass from Darnold. He went high for a Beckham-like grab. Got it over Derrick Jones.

That may have been one of the best catches I’ve seen in a training camp. #Jets

Mike Francesa (on Twitter): If the Jets are going to do this right for the long term, Sam Darnold should be the starting QB from Week 1. This is now his team.

Mehta: I’ve always been of the belief—and I know people in the organization share this same sentiment—that it’s OK to have turnovers and throw interceptions in practice if you’re a young quarterback.

Cimini: He doesn’t do dumb things. All rookies do dumb things occasionally. Some more than others. But I don’t see him do dumb things.

Michael Pallas (on NFL Spin Zone): When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg became a self-made billionaire at the ripe old age of 23, he became the first person in his 20s to become a billionaire ever. He was soon followed by Evan Spiegel, the founder of Snapchat. In the internet age, we’ve seen a lot of young people become multimillionaires as a result of being smart and using their ability to build through growth in technology. From a sports perspective, we’ve seen Bryce Harper and LeBron James become instant successes in their teenage years in MLB and the NBA. Could New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold be on that same path?

Josh Norman (to SportsCenter): This little kid is not making mistakes.

Darnold (later Monday on Instagram): @konared just launched single serve cups... Now, I can have hot KonaRed coffee in the morning if I don’t feel like cold brew. #kcups #coffeelife

Cimini: From all indications—and it’s way early—but from all indications, it looks like he has a chance to be that guy. He’s been very impressive in practices and in the one game he played [as of Thursday afternoon], so I know the organization is very, very happy with him.

Mehta (on Twitter): SAM DARNOLD UPDATE:

He’s impressing the organization every day.

Every single day.

Practice stats are largely irrelevant.

#JetsCamp

Norman (to SportsCenter, cont.): It’s kinda like, dang.

Mehta: He is far ahead of where most rookie quarterbacks are at this stage of his development. You also have to factor in that this is really only his fourth season playing quarterback. He’s still a baby.