McCown still leads competition as Darnold emerges

Published 2:30 pm Monday, August 20, 2018

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Josh McCown is still No. 1 on the New York Jets’ quarterback depth chart. At this point, though, he might as well be No. 100.

With each practice, it appears increasingly likely that rookie Sam Darnold will be the starter when the regular season kicks off in three weeks. Not that McCown has done anything on the field to hurt his chances of retaining the job.

It’s simply a matter of circumstances.

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McCown is 39 and been there, done that. Darnold is 21, was the third overall pick in the draft, has immense talent and is considered the future of the franchise — and that future could be now. He has shined in his last several practices and will likely start Friday night against the Giants in the team’s third preseason game.

“Like I said the whole time, obviously, we traded up to (No.) 3 to draft a quarterback to get Sam because there’s a plan in place,” McCown said. “So we understand that.”

That “plan” has been to give Darnold and Teddy Bridgewater the bulk of the work in the preseason and see how they perform. So far, so good — and that means McCown could slide down the depth chart very soon.

Coach Todd Bowles hasn’t announced a regular-season starter yet, and says he might not do so until after the fourth preseason game. From all indications, it’s trending in Darnold’s direction. But McCown isn’t necessarily reading into the fact Darnold is getting the bulk of the first-team snaps and that is causing the perception that the rookie will be the starter.

“No, I mean, obviously, he’s younger,” McCown said. “I was taking these kind of reps when he was 4 years old.”

Actually, Darnold was 5 when McCown was in his first NFL training camp with Arizona in 2002. But, point made.

“He needs the work and it’s good for him,” the veteran said. “Every rep is a great rep for all of us, there’s no doubt about it.”

Sure, he wants to start, but McCown is a realist. He knows his days as an NFL player, let alone starting quarterback, are dwindling.

“My goal for this is for the quarterback room to play well,” said McCown, who signed a $10 million deal in the offseason to return to New York. “And if that’s me playing out there, I want to play the best football that I can play. If that’s Sam or that’s Teddy, whoever that is, that’s the ultimate goal.”

Last summer, McCown also saw limited action in the preseason as the Jets tried to give Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty the opportunity to seize the starting gig. Neither could and McCown was the clear starter.

Darnold and Bridgewater have provided a different type of competition, a three-man race that is quickly becoming a two-man show — with McCown in the background.

“It’s fun to be out there playing and there’s no substitute for that,” McCown said. “That’s why we do it. At the same time, when you look at things from that prospective, if you can help be a part of finding that guy that can be that guy for this franchise for a long time, that means something to me, that’s competitive to me. That’s what we get up for work to do, that’s what makes it fun.

“I don’t feel like the forgotten guy because we’re busy every day working, and working on those things. That’s all that matters.”

McCown has been in just about every situation imaginable throughout his professional career, which is entering its 17th year.

He has been a third-round pick, an up-and-coming passer, a backup, a starter and a place-holder in his stops with 10 teams. He spent one year out of the NFL and played in the United Football League. McCown has also spent time as a volunteer coach for a high school team in North Carolina.

He has graciously handled the many ups and downs during his career. Those experiences help McCown balance his competitive nature and the willingness to help those trying to take his job.

“I think for me, it’s just a personal thing,” McCown said. “At the end of the day, you go to work and you work as hard as you can and you help as many people as you can. And when you lay down and you can have peace in your heart at night, and you know that I did all I could that day, and then you sleep good. That’s what I learned growing up and that’s all I know.”

McCown takes nothing for granted and that’s something he has stressed to the young players in camp, and not just the quarterbacks. He’s the closest example of a player-coach you could find in the NFL, a mentor who seems destined to be in charge of a team someday.

McCown’s days of leading from the huddle might be about over, though.

And, he’s OK with whatever happens next.

“At this point in my career, I don’t know how many more years of this will happen, so you treasure every moment,” he said. “I think when you keep those things in perspective, there are days — nobody is perfect — there are days when you want to take every rep and you look back and you go, ‘Man, I wish I was just starting out again,’ but (you put it) all in perspective. It’s been fun and I enjoy being a part of this group. Todd sets a great tone and tempo every day for us and it is just an honor to be a part of it.

“So that is really what keeps me going and what allows me to come and enjoy it and not get caught up in anything else.”

— — —

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The Buffalo Bills’ offseason-long quarterback competition is down to two players now that AJ McCarron is seeking a second opinion to determine the severity of an injury to his throwing shoulder.

Coach Sean McDermott on Sunday declined to reveal many details on McCarron’s status except to say the team is still evaluating the injury after initial tests were inconclusive.

And yet McDermott acknowledged the injury will have an immediate effect on McCarron’s place in the quarterback pecking order with rookie first-round pick Josh Allen and returning backup Nathan Peterman still competing for the starting job.

“Look, any time you’re not on the field it’s not really an ideal situation in that regard,” McDermott said. “If healthy, then we pick up where we left off.”

McCarron took several hits and was hurt during the first quarter of Buffalo’s 19-17 preseason win at Cleveland on Friday.

The Bills avoided a major scare on another injury front.

Defensive tackle and team leader Kyle Williams is listed week to week after the 13-year veteran hurt his right knee early in the second quarter against the Browns.

While the Bills practiced outdoors, Williams was spotted by The Associated Press walking into the weight room. He walked without a noticeable limp but had a long black wrap covering most of his right leg.

Safety Micah Hyde’s initial concerns on Friday turned to relief upon seeing Williams at the facility.

“That’s Kyle. He’s a tough guy,” Hyde said. “You’re going to have to cut that leg off for him not to be playing.”

McDermott said rookie third-round pick Harrison Phillips will take over the starting job in Williams’ absence.

Who starts at quarterback remains the major question with Buffalo preparing to host Cincinnati on Aug. 26.

With McDermott being cautious against rushing Allen’s development, McCarron was considered the initial front-runner for the job. He is the most experienced quarterback on the roster after spending his first four NFL seasons as Andy Dalton’s backup in Cincinnati before signing with the Bills in free agency in March.

McCarron struggled in his first preseason start and had little help from an offensive line that had difficulty stopping the Browns’ pass rush.

He was sacked once, hit several times and finished going 3 of 6 for 12 yards during four series in which the Bills failed to generate a first down.

Allen replaced McCarron and led Buffalo on scoring drives — a touchdown and two field goals — on each of his three possessions. He finished 9 of 13 for 60 yards and showed poise by avoiding the pass rush and stepping up in the pocket to hit Rod Streater for a 2-yard touchdown pass in a third-and-goal situation.

He particularly cleaned up his inconsistencies after going 9 of 19 for 116 yards and a touchdown in overseeing the third-stringers during the entire second half of Buffalo’s preseason-opening 28-23 loss to Carolina.

In calling Allen’s performance a step in the right direction, McDermott isn’t ready to hand the 22-year-old the starting job just yet.

“Let’s just manage expectations,” McDermott said. “He’s a young player, and let’s just take it one day at a time right now. A lot to be learned still.”

Receiver Kelvin Benjamin is impressed by Allen’s poise.

“I feel like he controlled the huddle,” Benjamin said, before recalling a conversation he had with Allen.

“I asked him early on, like, ‘Do you get nervous.’ And he was like, ‘No,’” Benjamin said. “I’m like, ‘Man, you’re better than me because my rookie year I was kind of nervous.’”

Peterman took the first snaps in practice Sunday during the portion open to reporters.

Peterman has put up the best numbers of the three. He’s completed 17 of 20 attempts for 232 yards, with two touchdowns and interception.

He was selected in the fifth-round out of Pittsburgh last year and had a forgettable rookie season. McDermott’s calculated gamble to bench Tyrod Taylor and start Peterman backfired after the rookie threw five interceptions in the first half of a 54-24 loss at the Los Angeles Chargers on Nov. 19.

— — —

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Dallas Cowboys received the good news they expected after a preseason knee injury to Zack Martin, the highest-paid guard in the NFL.

Two people with knowledge of the diagnosis said Sunday that Martin has no structural damage in his hyperextended left knee and should be ready for the opener.

Martin was injured in the second quarter of the Cowboys’ 21-13 exhibition loss to Cincinnati on Saturday night. The people told The Associated Press that an MRI confirmed the Cowboys’ belief that the injury wasn’t serious. They spoke on condition of anonymity because there was no official update on Martin’s status.

The Cowboys open the season Sept. 9 at Carolina.

Martin signed a six-year, $84 million extension with $40 million guaranteed during the offseason. The 27-year-old has made the Pro Bowl all four seasons in Dallas and started all 67 games, including three playoff games.

The former Notre Dame standout was injured when he moved into the open field and bent down to block Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick on a run by Rod Smith. With Martin in the medical tent, the Cowboys finished their only touchdown drive with Dak Prescott’s scrambling 6-yard throw to Terrance Williams

“I was scared,” Prescott said after the game. “I was just trying to get that touchdown and go check on him.”

Martin was a first-round draft pick in 2014 and became the club’s first rookie All-Pro selection in 35 years while helping the Cowboys win the NFC East and just their second playoff since the last of the franchise’s five Super Bowls during the 1995 season.

The Cowboys had another injury scare with the offensive line earlier in training camp when center Travis Frederick saw a specialist in Los Angeles after a series of stingers. Frederick said he was cleared by doctors, although he likely will join Martin on the sideline for the rest of the preseason.

While Martin was getting evaluated, Frederick and fellow offensive linemen La’el Collins and Tyron Smith waited just outside the medical tent along with 2016 NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott.

“It was hard in that moment to think of all the possibilities of what could be going on right then with such a great player and such a great guy who’s put in so much work to make sure his game is exactly where it is,” Prescott said. “To see that wasn’t good and it wasn’t fun.”

Smith, another first-round pick and a five-time Pro Bowl selection, has been battling back issues in recent seasons. Smith, Frederick and Martin have all made the Pro Bowl each of the past four seasons.