Behind-the-scenes look at how Sam Darnold has impressed Jets

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- After three months of post-draft hype, quarterback Sam Darnold makes his New York Jets debut Friday night against the Atlanta Falcons. The stakes are huge.

Darnold, picked third overall, has a legitimate chance to be the opening-day starter. After seven practices (he missed three due to a contract dispute), the organization's expectation level has only risen. Darnold has had some rookie hiccups (five interceptions), but he also has provided a handful of wow plays each day.

While the Jets' quarterback-starved fan base waits for the public unveiling, Darnold's new teammates already have formed impressions based on his demeanor in the huddle, in the classroom and in the locker room. Here's an inside look at the former USC star through the eyes of a wide receiver, an offensive lineman and a safety.

Jermaine Kearse, wide receiver: "He's poised and calm. Every time I'm in there, I feel like there's no sense of panic by him. I think he has really good composure. Obviously, we haven't gotten to a game yet, but he just seems very composed and very confident in what he's doing, which is something you really want to see from a rookie quarterback."

Ben Ijalana, tackle: "My locker is pretty close to his. In OTAs, every time I saw him, he was hunched over with the playbook in his hands. It was like he was reading grandma's Bible. He's quiet, he's chill. He's got a good head on his shoulders."

On Tuesday, safety J.J. Wilcox intercepted Darnold twice on long passes after he appeared to bait the young quarterback.

Wilcox: "Yeah, I did. It comes from experience. I've got a feel for it on the back end. With Darnold, he's a great quarterback. He can throw it. I know that if I gave him an inch, he'd drop it on a dime, so I had to use a little of my playmaking ability and my experience to get the upper hand. I just leaned the opposite way, then came back to the other hash. I worked with him afterward; we talked about it. I told him the veteran safeties are going to be able to line up on this hash but at the same time have their body go to the opposite hash."

Ijalana: "In the huddle, he has a great retention for the play. The playcalls are so lengthy, so wordy. He'll hear JB [offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates] and be like, 'Got it. Hey, guys: Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah ... ready [claps].' If you notice, when he's in the huddle, he doesn't look back at the OC. He retains the info from the play. It's cool. It's impressive. I wouldn't be able to do it. I think a skill like that will serve him greatly throughout his career, especially as a rookie."

Kearse: "His eyes are always down the field, even when he's scrambling. I've noticed that. As I watch the film more, I pay attention to see what he's doing with his eyes, trying to hold the safeties off. As far as a first impression, it's the eyes. The pocket mobility -- his movement in the pocket -- is good, too. When we start seeing preseason games and you can get hit, that's when we'll start seeing what it's all about. That's the biggest thing. It'll be very telling in the first game."

Wilcox: "He's got potential. [On Wednesday], in the red zone, he was dropping dimes. You can tell, the more he gets comfortable, the more it zips out -- the more it jumps out at you. You can see why the scouts in the NFL were so heavy on him, because when he's confident and he sees it, he lets it rip. As a rookie, that's hard. I was impressed. He has the zip to get it in there."

Ijalana: "He's got some nice touch on his passes. He makes some sweet passes. In minicamp, there was a play ... he rolls left, he jumps in the air, he throws it and he lands perfectly. The receiver catches the ball and Sam looks back. I was like, 'Jesus Christ, this kid is nice.'"

Wilcox: "For a rookie, you want to keep [the pass plays] simple. Keep it to maybe one side of the field, run a route combination for maybe man and a zone-beater on the same side of the field, so he gets comfortable. Once he gets that confidence, he can go from progression one, two, three, four, like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady."

On Monday, Darnold showed he might be beyond half-field reads, demonstrating veteran-like awareness on a short touchdown pass to running back Trent Cannon. Darnold looked to the left, trying to find a receiver. No one was open. Then, as if he had eyes in the side of his head, he pivoted to the right and found Cannon all alone in the end zone.

Darnold: "So that was a man/zone-read type of thing where one side was for man and the other side was for zone. So I read man, went to the man side, saw that he wasn't really winning over there, came back because the other play we drew up on the other side is a zone-beater. But it's also a great man-beater, too, so I just had time to come back to that group. Had protection by the O-line and was able to find Trent there in the corner."

Kearse: "As far as playing football, he's gotten better every single day."