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Lunchbreak: The Athletic Explores Sam Darnold's Role in Development

The moves made to the Vikings quarterbacks room this offseason reunited a pair of Jets who first linked in 2018.

Josh McCown was named the quarterbacks coach six years after he was the savvy veteran QB for a team that drafted Sam Darnold with the No. 3 overall pick.

Fast-forward to today, one week ahead of the 2024 NFL Draft, and McCown is working with Darnold, who joined Minnesota on a one-year deal with the mutual understanding that the team could use a high pick on a quarterback next week.

The Athletic's Alec Lewis revisited the dynamics of the Jets locker room in 2018 in a story about how Darnold can play a vital part if there is a young QB.

McCown may have fielded questions from reporters as a shield for Darnold, a way to prevent the rookie from a daily onslaught.

It's also possible that McCown shared his thoughts because he felt they were important for everyone — fans, coaches and even team personnel — to keep in mind.

"This time when you're developing a quarterback is critical," he told the New York Daily News in May 2018. "Everyone's different with the pace at which they take in information. It's wise as an organization to understand that."

NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah on Wednesday said if someone injected truth serum into the top prospects and their agents, they'd all admit Minnesota offers the "best landing spot" for a young QB. Those comments stem from the structure in place, the belief in Head Coach Kevin O'Connell as a play caller, and the supporting cast, which could be among the best that Darnold has had with an opportunity to start.

Darnold has 56 NFL starts under his belt and he'll only be 27 years old in June. He and the Vikings believe in continuing to develop, even this many years into his career, too.

If things go well with Darnold, the development on-ramp with a younger player could take its full course.

"We just happen to have a really good situation, in my opinion, with the players we have in that huddle, the guys who are going to be coaching that player, and then ultimately what we hope is a long-term plan to really have a special player at the position," O'Connell said earlier this week.

The key word there? Hope.

That hope is not just contingent on ownership's discipline, but also Darnold's command. The better the 26-year-old plays, the more patient the third-year general manager and head coach can be with the rookie. The longer Darnold retains the starting role and maintains the trust of the 52 other players in the locker room, the more time the young draftee has before he is propped up as the next gold mine, the player certain to lead this organization to heights never before achieved.

NFL Holds 1st Medical Summit

Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson said earlier this week he hopes the NFL will evaluate low hits on pass catchers as it continues to evaluate player safety, a multiyear effort that added a new initiative last month.

While NFL Owners and other team leaders gathered in Orlando, Florida, for the Annual League Meeting, more than 400 athletic trainers, equipment managers, strength and conditioning coaches, nutrition experts and sports science directors met for a combined medical summit The Associated Press reported as the first of its kind in any sport.

Injury prevention was a major focus of the four-day summit that featured members of the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society, the Professional Football Equipment Managers Society, the Professional Football Performance Coaches Association and the Professional Football Registered Dietitian Society.

The groups met for a series of workshops, seminars and combined education sessions. They visited with various vendors and heard from guest speakers that included Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy and former player Andrew Whitworth.

"It's not just team doctors or athletic trainers; all these different disciplines really see themselves as part of our health and safety effort," Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's Chief Medical Officer, told The AP. "Clubs see themselves very holistically and nowadays, as coaches start to plan practice schedules and start to plan training camp, they really engage these different disciplines and they do it through the lens of what might be driving injury.

"Obviously, coaches want to get their teams ready to play, but they also want to make sure they're as healthy as possible. And so that's really where we're looking at these interventions. How can we collectively, whether it's through our medical care or equipment or nutrition or strength and conditioning efforts, what do we do collectively that increases player availability and reliability?"

The AP also quoted Vikings Vice President of Player Health and Performance Tyler Williams, who has prioritized a wholistic approach since his hire by Minnesota in 2022.

"As the combine continues to get bigger and as disciplines become more subspecialty, how do we increase our level of interdisciplinary collaboration so if an athlete comes in and wants to wear these cleats, when you look at the injury history of the foot and ankle and you look at how they train with the sports medicine and how they fuel from the dietitian, all those components should have a say at the table," Williams said.

The ban on the hip-drop tackle approved by NFL Owners last month is part of more than 50 rules changes made in the NFL since 2002. League officials said the hip-drop tackle was used 230 times and connected to 15 injuries in 2023.

Since 2002, the NFL has made over 50 rules changes intended to eliminate potentially dangerous tactics and reduce the risk of injuries.

The horse-collar tackle, chop blocks and more were banned years ago. Helmet-to-helmet hits became illegal in 1996. Protecting quarterbacks has been a focal point for many rule changes, including one that prohibits low hits.