FLORHAM PARK — Sam Darnold’s swollen spleen has taken center stage for the New York Jets.
The 22-year-old quarterback is scheduled to have blood tests and an ultrasound Friday to determine if the enlarged organ has returned to normal size — or close to it — and allow Darnold to play in a game for the first time since the season opener.
Darnold, the Jets and their fans are keeping their fingers crossed, hoping he gets good news from the doctors.
“It’s a tough thing because you want to stay safe,” Darnold said Thursday. “I want to make sure that I’m safe out there, and that, you know, I’m not going to die.”
Darnold managed a smile while saying that, but he fully understands the seriousness of the situation.
He was diagnosed with mononucleosis Sept. 11 — three days after the season opener — and has been gradually working his way back to the field.
Darnold was cleared for non-contact activity on Monday, and has been practicing as if he’ll start Sunday at Philadelphia. But, it will all depend on whether the swelling in his spleen has dissipated enough to get him medical clearance to play.
“For me, sitting back and watching the team play and not having anything to do with the win or the loss is not a good feeling for me,” Darnold said. “So, if there’s one thing that I’ve realized throughout this time sitting down is that it’s a privilege to play this game. And so, I’m just excited to get back out there whenever it is. For me, it’s sooner rather than later you, is my mindset.
“But I know that I’ve got to let the doctors do their job.”
Darnold has been working on regaining his timing on his throws, as well as his accuracy, while rebuilding chemistry with the offense. He has also been building his stamina back up after a long layoff.
“Yeah, I feel like I’m good enough to play,” he said. “My energy is great. I’m having fun out there, having a good time in the huddle, breaking the huddle, just playing football. It’s good to be back from that standpoint. I feel like I’m good to go, but obviously there are some things that need to get cleared before that happens.”
Coach Adam Gase liked what he has seen from Darnold at practice, and has no concerns about the quarterback’s overall strength and conditioning. The ultimate decision — if Darnold is medically cleared — will come down to the doctors, trainers, Gase, general manager Joe Douglas and even Darnold coming together.
“Everybody has to check their box to say, ‘Yes, this is what we’re doing,’” Gase said.
Gase acknowledged, however, that it would be tough to convince Darnold to stay off the field if he’s medically cleared.
“If they tell us he can go, you can tell him not to play,” Gase said. “It’s not going to go well.”
Gase added that the doctors wouldn’t say Darnold is OK to play if they have any concern about him hurting himself more. The quarterback isn’t worried about long-term ramifications from playing on Sunday.
“Hopefully, if the doctors give me the green light, there’s no risk out there,” Darnold said. “Once I’m out there playing football, I won’t be concerned about it.”
When Darnold does play, he’ll wear customized padding created by New Jersey-based sports-safety equipment company XTECH.
“It’s just a little extra padding around the ribs and around that area to make sure that nothing bad happens,” Darnold said. “They made it super fast. I think it took them under a week to do it. It’s good reinforcement. It’s hard plastic and it’s hard to get through that stuff.”
If Darnold isn’t cleared to play, Luke Falk would get his second straight start in his place. Falk was 12 of 22 for 98 yards in his NFL starting debut against New England two weeks ago.
Falk had been on the practice squad to start the season, but was elevated to backup when Darnold became ill. He was then pushed into starting when Trevor Siemian went down for the season with an ankle injury in Week 2 against Cleveland.
Darnold has taken most of the snaps with the starters, with Falk also getting some this week.
“The good thing is, with Luke, two weeks ago was great for him as far as getting ready for a game and having as many reps as he did,” Gase said. “We’re just trying to balance it out to where he gets enough.”
NOTES: LG Kelechi Osemele injured a shoulder at practice Wednesday and sat out Thursday. He’s also dealing with a sore knee. “He’s pretty banged up right now,” Gase said, not sounding optimistic about Osemele’s chances of playing. Tom Compton or Alex Lewis could replace him. ... LBs C.J. Mosley (groin) and Jordan Jenkins (calf) also didn’t practice. ... RB/KR Trenton Cannon (hamstring/ankle) and WR Demaryius Thomas (hamstring) were limited after not practicing Thursday. Also limited were WR Josh Bellamy (shoulder), DL Quinnen Williams (ankle), TE Dan Brown (ankle) and LB Tarell Basham (dehydration).