NEW YORK (AP) — Sam Darnold might be back leading the New York Jets' huddle as soon as next week.
The quarterback will be sidelined for the second straight game with a shoulder injury, but coach Adam Gase was optimistic Friday that Darnold could return for next Sunday's home game against Miami.
“He's doing good and he's feeling better,” Gase said. “I think we've got a good shot for the next game. I mean, he's progressing in the right direction. We'll just kind of see how this weekend goes and how he feels Monday and Tuesday, and we'll be able to know on Wednesday.”
That's a bit of a surprisingly positive development because Darnold was considered out indefinitely and there was some speculation he wouldn't be back any time soon. The 23-year-old quarterback said earlier this week that it was the right decision for him to not play Sunday against the Chargers in Los Angeles and wanted to be sure he's totally healthy before he takes the field again.
Darnold began an interval throwing program this week and his right shoulder has responded well.
“He's really honest in how he feels,” Gase said. “Two weeks ago, when he was saying it just didn't feel right, it's hard to get him to say something like that. It has to be legit that something's going on. When he starts saying, ‘Hey, I feel better and I’m feeling stronger and I feel like things are going in the right direction,' that gives me confidence.”
Darnold sprained the AC joint in his right shoulder against Denver on Oct. 1. He finished that game, but missed the next two contests as Joe Flacco started in his place. Darnold reinjured his shoulder at Kansas City on Nov. 1, but also completed that game. He sat out the following week against New England, though, when he didn't like how his shoulder felt during practice.
The Jets had their bye-week break last week, but Darnold wasn't ready to return and has sat out practice all week and was officially listed as doubtful. Flacco will start Sunday against the Chargers.
“I mean, obviously, I want to play,” Darnold said Monday. “I always want to go out there and put it on the line for my teammates and my coaches and just go out there and play football. That’s what I love to do and that’s first and foremost. Obviously, as well, I’ve got to think about me.”
Darnold has struggled this season when he has played, along with the rest of the Jets' last-ranked offense. The third-year quarterback has only three touchdown passes — the same number Flacco had against New England in New York's 27-20 loss — and six interceptions. His 65.9 quarterback rating is the worst in the NFL among quarterbacks who have made at least four starts, and is the lowest of his career.
With the Jets 0-9 heading into Sunday's game and currently holding the No. 1 spot in the NFL draft next April, Darnold's future with the franchise is uncertain just three seasons after New York made him the third overall pick. With top quarterbacks such as Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State's Justin Fields expected to be taken early, there's a growing belief the Jets could select one of them and move on from Darnold.
Darnold insisted earlier this week he has not focused on any of that speculation, but rather on playing again.
“I’m just going to continue to do what I need to do, first and foremost to get healthy, and then when I do play, play well,” he said. “Just make sure that I’m doing everything I need to do to execute the plays that are called. At the end of the day, my job as a quarterback is to move the ball down the field, take care of the football and score touchdowns. I feel like once I get back out there, I’m going to do everything I can to do that.”
NOTES: CB Bless Austin was limited at practice after sitting out Thursday and needing an MRI on his injured neck. He's questionable for the game, but expected to play. “Hopefully Bless has a good day today and we’re good to go for Sunday,” Gase said. ... K Sam Ficken was also limited after being a full participant Thursday. He has missed the last three games with a strained right groin, but has a chance to play Sunday depending on how he performed at practice and feels afterward. He was listed as questionable. Sergio Castillo is 6 for 7 on field goals in Ficken's place, with the only miss a block. ... LB Blake Cashman (hamstrings) was listed as doubtful, but is expected to miss his third straight game. ... The Jets signed backup OL Conor McDermott to a one-year contract extension.
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