NEW YORK (AP) — Le’Veon Bell likes everything he has seen for Sam Darnold since training camp started.
The New York Jets running back insists the third-year quarterback has taken a significant step in becoming a better and more assertive leader. Bell has also noticed Darnold’s command of the offense, with the hesitations and slight pauses of last season long gone.
“Sam looks amazing this year,” Bell said Monday during a video call. “It’s going to be fun.”
But, then, the running back smiled and delivered the line of the day.
“We’ve just got to make sure he stays healthy, man,” Bell said before breaking into a laugh. “I told him: no bars.”
In this time of social distancing and wearing masks because of the coronavirus pandemic, that’s certainly sage advice for pretty much anyone, let alone NFL players. But, particularly Darnold, who missed three games last season while dealing with mononucleosis.
The 23-year-old quarterback talked recently about how he’s fully prepared to be “boring” this season, with his only planned activities being driving to and from the team facility and nothing more. No trips to Manhattan or hanging with buddies on days off.
Jokes aside, Darnold’s work ethic and dedication to getting better have never been questioned. The thing is, much of the Jets’ success this season is riding on Darnold — and Bell and the rest of his teammates know it.
That’s why they need him to be able to play every game and show the progress the franchise expects to see. Bell, for one, has already witnessed it through the first few weeks of camp.
“Yeah, he looks a lot different,” Bell said. “He’s a lot more comfortable.”
It shows in the regular banter between Darnold and coach Adam Gase, who’ll call a play and the quarterback will point out an error or an adjustment he thinks should be made.
“He’ll be like, ‘Do you want to flip it?’ Or, it’s like, ‘Do you want that on the left hash?’” Bell said. “He’ll correct it and Gase will be like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.’ That’s how I know he’s getting comfortable with the offense.”
But, Bell, who played with Ben Roethlisberger for five seasons in Pittsburgh, sees perhaps the biggest change in Darnold when the offense is gathered on the field.
“He’s taken great command of the huddle,” Bell said. “Guys are in there talking and whatever, and he’s like, ‘Hey! Hey! Hey!’ And, guys listen. Sam’s not really a rah-rah guy. He’s not really loud and he’s not really a yell guy. He’s kind of real monotone and kind of calm.
“Everybody goes about their way differently. But, the way he does it, you want to follow him. You want to listen to him and work hard for him.”
After recovering from the illness last season, Darnold was inconsistent for several games. He then put together a nice stretch in the second half of the season, helping New York go 6-2 while throwing 13 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.
Darnold needs to build on that, and a rebuilt offensive line should help. Bell bouncing back from a subpar first season with the Jets will also be a major factor.
“I’m 28 years old. I played in this league at 21,” he said. “I feel better at 28 than I did at 21. I think it’s going to be a fun year and I’m excited.”
And that’s despite some wondering if Bell is at about the age when many NFL running backs start to decline.
“Honestly, other guys are not me,” Bell said. “They don’t have the same mindset that I’ve got, the same drive. I look at a guy like Frank Gore. I’m fortunate that he’s in my room. I pick his brain. He has a similar mindset as I have.”
The 37-year-old Gore is third on the NFL’s career rushing list, and is working on the field and in the gym as if he’s still a youngster trying to prove himself. That keeps Bell motivated.
“The fact that he’s 37 years old and he’s playing at a high level still,” Bell said. “And he was talking about the things that he was doing when (he) was 28. He’s like Le’Veon, ‘I was doing this, that and the other.’ So I know I’m doing the right things because I’m hearing it from a guy who’s done it and who’s doing it.”
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