You don’t need to be an oracle of the spleen to know that it’s dangerous to mess around with an enlarged organ.
While much of the Google-inspired medical practitioners inhabiting the Jets universe have been frantically searching for a proper timetable for Sam Darnold’s return from mononucleosis, don’t lose sight of what matters most.
It would be reckless to rush back the Jets quarterback simply because the team is in an 0-3 hole.
Adam Gase delivered the sobering news Monday that Darnold can practice this week, but has not yet been cleared for contact three weeks after the player’s diagnosis came to light. It’s surely frustrating for Gase, who is off to a dubious start at his new job, but he’s smart enough not to do anything foolish with the player he was hired to turn into a star.
The head coach revealed that it’s “still a question mark” whether Darnold, who hasn’t even been cleared to lift weights or do intense cardio work, will be under center in Philly on Sunday.
“I know it’s not the clear-cut answer that we were hoping for,” Gase said. “But the positive thing is that it gives us a chance to get him out at practice… If we were playing the game [Tuesday] or Wednesday, he wouldn’t be able to play because he hasn’t been cleared for contact.”
Darnold has the right mindset given these annoying circumstances. He’s following doctors’ orders even if he sort of doesn’t really want to do so given his competitive streak.
“I feel 100 percent,” Darnold said Monday after his morning evaluation with guys with actual medical degrees. “I’ve been feeling 100 percent for a week now. So, I think that’s the most frustrating part about this. It’s what makes me the most anxious: Feeling 100 percent, but not necessarily being able to go out there and do what I love to do.”
Professional football players are wired differently than most humans. They live to play. They’ll use tape, braces or any other means to get them on the field for a few hours on Sundays. Hell, Rams legend Jack Youngblood once played in a Pro Bowl with a broken leg. And that game didn’t actually count for anything.
But an enlarged spleen is much different than a broken ankle. Darnold declined to reveal whether his spleen is still swollen. “My spleen, at this point, is going to do what it’s going to do,” he said.
Although Darnold is mature beyond his 22 years, he’s still a competitive guy, who’s been plopped on his couch eating snacks for far too long, while watching his team play. He’s rightfully perturbed.
But his coach and team need to protect him from himself.
There should be many bright days, months and years ahead with Darnold. The temptation to rush him back to save the day after a forgettable first three games is palpable.
Perhaps, Darnold will be cleared for contact at some point this week, but conditioning and timing are fair concerns. Darnold has done nothing more than stationary biking and walking to this point.
Is it fair to expect that he’d be able to play at an optimal level by Sunday?
“I feel like I could play right now,” said Darnold, who started throwing Monday for the first time since the season-opening loss to the Bills on Sept. 8. “Obviously that’s coming from a place without practicing or anything the last three weeks. But I’m pretty confident in myself that I’d be able to go out there and adapt. It’s the timing aspect of everything. It’s dropping back and throwing a ball where it needs to be and all that kind of stuff.”
Gase is in a precarious situation this week. Does he prepare Darnold to start all week only to be told by the medical staff later that the quarterback won’t be cleared for contact on gameday? How does he integrate the inexperienced Luke Falk into the practice schedule?
“It’s not an ideal situation,” Gase said. “It would be one thing if you were looking at a guy who’s played in the league for 12 years or something that we could go the whole week and all of a sudden get the rug pulled out from under us. But this is more of a situation where when you have more of a younger backup, and if he was going to play, he would need the reps. So, it’s one of those things where the sooner the better that I have an answer… It’s just a lot of gray right now.”
This will be a different type of test for Gase, whose offense ranks last in a litany of meaningful categories.
“I’m looking at everything,” Gase said about the plan for Darnold this week. “Is his arm going to be okay? We’ll be monitoring how many throws he does per day and building up there… And the conditioning level? Where is he at on that? There’s so many little steps that we’re trying to go through here. He’s pressing to play... There’s just a lot of boxes that we got to check before we can say, ‘Hey, we’re rolling on Sunday.’”
Sure, the Jets desperately need a pick-me-up, but don’t lose sight of the big picture. Sunday would be huge, but there will be so many more Sundays for Darnold.