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Sam Darnold Reconnecting with Josh McCown While Learning Vikings System

EAGAN, Minn. – "Did we just become best friends?"


Sam Darnold and Josh McCown aren't stepbrothers, but they are former teammates who are now reunited.

Minnesota hired McCown this season to coach quarterbacks, and Darnold joined the roster in free agency.

Asked about sharing a position room again with McCown, Darnold referenced their time together with the Jets during his 2018 rookie season.

"It felt like we were best friends – the youngest kid on the team with the oldest guy on the team being best friends," Darnold told Twin Cities media members following the Vikings second Organized Team Activity practice of the offseason. "It's good to be back and just to continue to hear so much wisdom he can share with not only me but the other quarterbacks in the room, as well."

Darnold remains grateful for McCown's willingness to take the younger QB under his wing and show him the ropes as he navigated the NFL landscape.

"When I came in my rookie year, not having a ton of experience, and him being around the league with a ton of offenses and different players, and playing a little bit the last few years of his career," Darnold said. "He had a ton of experience and wisdom to share with me … and I think that's where we got so close."

Now entering his seventh season but with his fourth pro team, Darnold is continuing to learn and strengthen his craft.

Darnold has some high-level familiarity with Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell's offense, which overlaps a bit with San Francisco's West Coast-based system.

View photos from the Vikings first OTA practice, which took place on May 20 at the TCO Performance Center.

But when it comes to learning new verbiage and system nuances, he's embracing the study time.

"I enjoy the process of learning a new offense," Darnold said. "Obviously a lot of hard work has to go into it. I'm learning a ton. Just continuing to grind every single day and continue to get better at the little details. And you know, once I feel like I have something down, don't ever be satisfied with that because it can come up in a big moment during the season."

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips noted it's also a helpful process for the coaching staff to teach the system after the departure of Kirk Cousins in free agency.

"It limits your offseason install, where you don't feel pressed to get everything in or, 'Hey, we've gotta get more stuff in … to challenge this guy.' We can really take it A-to-Z, step-by-step," Phillips explained. "We always try to start at the beginning, but it's been good to limit the install a little bit and decide, 'What are really our core plays that we want to make sure we master and can lean on during the season?' "

Phillips said Darnold "has been great" and is right on track, asking the right questions in meeting rooms and on the practice field.

Phillips also reminded that though Darnold has had a unique NFL journey thus far, the No. 3 overall pick of the 2018 draft has 66 games (56 starts) under his belt.

That includes his time with the 49ers, as well.

"If you've got experience with a concept, there's a familiarity to how you read it, your drops, whether you're throwing off-plan or throwing off a hitch and how you reset, those types of things, there's familiarity there," Phillips said. "And the other thing you see with Sam is just the arm talent. That [phrase] gets thrown [around] a lot, but he was the third pick in the draft for a reason, and we've really seen it show up out here."

In addition to soaking in everything he can from O'Connell, Phillips, McCown and veteran quarterback Nick Mullens, Darnold also is a veteran presence himself in the position group that includes 2024 first-round draft pick J.J. McCarthy and second-year pro Jaren Hall.

Darnold was asked early impressions of the rookie and said he's "been great" thus far. The two were able to meet while attending a Timberwolves playoff game with teammates earlier this month.

"We got to chat a little bit there, and I was like, 'First of all, dude, congratulations on getting drafted. It's a great experience. And I know it flies by,' " Darnold said. "He's been great so far and continuing to learn and be a great quarterback in that room.

"Great people in that room right now," he later added. "Really smart guys to be able to bounce ideas off of, and it's gonna be fun once we start getting in the weeds of defenses – especially ours. You know, being able to dissect what they're doing and how J.J., Nick and Jaren see it."

Darnold is focused on being the best quarterback he can be for Minnesota, but he also understands the value of helping younger passers like McCown did for him, and that's an important piece of this time of year.

Besides being farther along in his NFL career than McCarthy, Darnold also can relate to what it's like coming in as a high draft pick and the pressure that comes with it.

"With expectations, and [debating] whether or not quarterbacks should start right away or whether they should sit a year or two," said Darnold, who started all 13 games he played as a rookie for the Jets.

He pointed to C.J. Stroud, who saw a lot of success as a rookie with Houston last year, and conversely to Jordan Love, who was drafted by Green Bay in 2020 and sat for three seasons behind Aaron Rodgers before stepping into a full-time starting role last year.

"There's so many different ways to view it," Darnold said. "And it just totally depends on the situation, the organization, the guys in the locker room and what is surrounding that quarterback – especially as a high draft pick."

O'Connell and Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah have spoken extremely highly of Darnold and also refrained from putting any sort of timeline on McCarthy, emphasizing they are "not going to rush his development."

"We're just going to do what's best for the Vikings in the short and long term, and we're excited to have him," Adofo-Mensah said after drafting the former Michigan Wolverine.

So together, Darnold and McCarthy will work on mastering Minnesota's offensive system and impressing the coaching staff.

"I'm [setting out to] play consistent football – not turning the ball over and just putting the ball in play, letting those guys catch the ball and go make plays and run," Darnold said. "I think that's kind of been the biggest hurdle [in my career], is playing good one week and then, you know, not having such a good game the next week. Just continuing to stack good weeks on top of good weeks throughout the season is my goal."

And he's finding the Vikings organization a positive environment to put his best foot forward.

"Going to a new team, you're not really sure exactly what the vibe is gonna be like, but these guys have been awesome, and they've welcomed me with open arms. I know a lot of the new guys feel the same exact way," Darnold said. "It's been great to be here, has been great to get on the turf and the grass and be able to throw the football around."