Jets' Darnold fully practices, on track to start vs. Bills

In this Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018 file photo, New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) looks to throw against the Chicago Bears during the second half of an NFL football game in Chicago. Sam Darnold was a full participant at practice, putting him on track to start for the New York Jets at Buffalo against the Bills on Sunday. The rookie quarterback has missed the past three games with a strained right foot. Coach Todd Bowles says Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 that it's too early in the week to say for sure if Darnold will start. (AP Photo/David Banks, File)

By DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Pro Football Writer

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Sam Darnold is one step closer to returning from his foot injury.

The New York Jets rookie quarterback was a full participant at practice Wednesday, putting him on track to start at Buffalo against the Bills on Sunday.

“That’s the goal,” Darnold said. “I’m really excited about this week and where we’re headed. I’m really excited about how I felt today, so as of right now, I’m really excited about hopefully getting a chance to play on Sunday.”

Yes, he’s really excited.

After all, Darnold has missed the past three games with a strained right foot. He was injured against Miami on Nov. 4 and hasn’t played since. Despite Darnold fully participating and Josh McCown limited with a sore back, coach Todd Bowles wouldn’t commit to the rookie starting this week.

“We’ll see,” Bowles said. “It’s too early in the week.”

Darnold certainly is preparing as though he’ll be playing in the icy cold of Buffalo, where the temperature is expected to be right around freezing Sunday.

So, instead of hitting the practice field bundled up in layers Wednesday with the temps in the low-30s, the California kid wore a short-sleeved shirt.

“It was cold today, but I had a little wet suit underneath,” Darnold said with a big grin. “So, I was really warm and felt like I didn’t really need long sleeves. I just kind of went with it.”

Added Bowles: “This is going to be about how it’s going to be on Sunday, so I’ll think he’ll be fine. He’s 21, he’ll shake it quick.”

Darnold returned to practice on a limited basis last week , but was not active last Sunday as McCown started in his place for the third straight game. Bowles said the No. 3 overall pick was working on shaking off the rust by getting his timing right.

“He looked fine,” Bowles said of Darnold’s performance Wednesday. “I mean, he threw the ball around pretty good, but it’s Day 1, so we’re trending.”

Darnold acknowledged that there’s occasional soreness as he works his way back from the foot injury, the details of which haven’t been disclosed other than the team calling it a “strain.” The quarterback was in a walking boot for a few days after the injury and has been gradually improving during the last four weeks.

“I knew it was three or four weeks, but for me it was really just depending on how I felt, if I felt ready to go, so hopefully this week,” Darnold said. “So far after that last practice, I feel really good, so I’m really hoping to get back out there this Sunday.”

The 39-year-old McCown had one touchdown pass and four interceptions filling in for Darnold, and the Jets went 0-3 in those games.

Darnold still leads the NFL with 14 interceptions despite missing three games, but will try to jumpstart an offense that has struggled during New York’s six-game losing streak.

“It’s been tough,” Darnold said of sitting out a month. “It (stinks). Josh has done a great job, honestly, of everything, really handling everything the way he has has been amazing. But for me, watching and not having a chance to do anything about it (stinks), but at the same time it is what it is and I knew that going into it.

“So, I was just trying to get healthy every single week and come back and hopefully this week is the week.”

If Darnold returns this week, it will be the first time he’ll take on Buffalo’s Josh Allen, who was taken four picks after New York took its quarterback.

Darnold and Allen got to know each other well during the months leading up to the draft, both working with Jordan Palmer and preparing for the next step in their football careers. Darnold said it would be “fun” to face Allen, even though he knows the Bills rookie — who set a Buffalo record for quarterbacks with 135 yards rushing last week against Miami — could be trouble for the Jets’ defense.

“The dude is a freak athlete,” Darnold said. “He’s so big and runs so fast and can throw the ball a mile. He’s a handful for defenses all around the league, but I know that — like I’ve had — there’s just some different looks that you go against than college. So he’s, just like I’ve been having, a little bit of rookie struggles and not seeing some of the defenses.

“I think for both of us it’s just about continuing to get those reps, but Josh has been doing amazing.”

NOTES: OL Spencer Long didn’t practice because of an illness, along with knee and finger injuries. RB Isaiah Crowell (toe) also sat out. … WR Quincy Enunwa (ankle) and TE Jordan Leggett (knee) were both limited. … S Marcus Maye had surgery Tuesday on his injured shoulder. Bowles said Maye, who’s on injured reserve, will need a few months to recover. … LB Josh Martin returned to practice after being designated for return from IR after missing the past eight games with a concussion.


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