Sam Darnold's growth could be stunted by Jets' mounting injuries

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A few weeks before the draft, New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold spent a few hours with Bill Parcells at the former coach's home in Florida. Parcells enjoys counseling young players, and he gave Darnold a piece of advice that might serve him well this week.

The message: Never reveal a hint of self-doubt after a bad game. Get back in the huddle on Wednesday and be The Leader.

And so Darnold did just that, claiming last week's three-interception clunker did nothing to damage his psyche.

"My confidence, it's fine," Darnold said with a smile. "I'm never really shaken at all."

He'll need that fearlessness because he's about to be tested in a way he never imagined.

Already without his leading receiver, Quincy Enunwa, the rookie lost his most dependable and versatile weapon on Wednesday. Running back Bilal Powell is done for the season, maybe for good, because of a severe neck injury that will require surgery. The injuries are mounting, and they will have a trickle-down effect on Darnold, whose development could be impaired by a compromised supporting cast.

That's too bad because so much of this season is about Darnold, the key to the future of the franchise. The Jets gave up a lot to get him, and they made a strong commitment by making him the starter. But a tough job just got tougher. Darnold is in a difficult spot, leading an offense that -- under ideal circumstances -- had obvious flaws. Then guys started getting hurt.

On Sunday, Darnold will be throwing to a receiver he met on Wednesday. Say hello to Rishard Matthews. He'll be handing the ball to a running back from Virginia State. Welcome to the big time, Trenton Cannon. Let's not forget about the cast of rookie and no-name tight ends. If wide receiver Robby Anderson can't play -- he missed practice with an ankle injury -- the Jets are in really bad shape.

Oh, yeah, Darnold's center, Spencer Long, can't snap straight out of shotgun because of a dislocated middle finger on his right hand. Now Darnold & Co. have to go on the road to face the Chicago Bears (3-3), whose talented defense will be trying to rebound from a couple of bad games. Darnold is a tough kid, mentally and physically, but this is a big ask.

"It's moving parts, but that's part of the job as a coach," Jets coach Todd Bowles said of the injuries. "There are things you have to do to adjust and move people around and get some parts together and put the team out there that gives you the best chance to win. Everybody loses starters. We're losing quite a bit lately, but we have guys who can play."

Darnold misses Enunwa (high ankle sprain), whose absence last week had a big effect on the offense. Throwing to Anderson, Jermaine Kearse and a handful of special-teams players moonlighting as receivers, Darnold completed only seven of 21 attempts to wide receivers. The offense was too pass-reliant, and it got ugly. The Jets are 0-4 when Darnold attempts more than 30 passes, so balance is imperative.

Now Powell is gone, which means the Jets lose a trusted third-down back. They'll have to overwork Isaiah Crowell and integrate the inexperienced Cannon into the offense. Powell wasn't a flashy player, but he produced 453 yards from scrimmage and never made a mental mistake. If there was a blitz on third down, he knew whom to block. He was the kind of player you want around your rookie quarterback.

"It's a sad thing to see that because B.P. is so respected in this locker room," Darnold said. "He's such a great guy to have on our team."

Darnold said he and Matthews, once a productive receiver with the Tennessee Titans, spent extra time after practice going through pass routes. Darnold said Matthews has "a really good feel. [I'm] just relying on that and having confidence in him, knowing he's going to be in the right spots at the right time."

Make no mistake: This will be tough for Darnold, who will become an expert at dealing with adversity. It's hardly the ideal way to raise a franchise quarterback.