It's the matchup everyone has been waiting for.
After a three-year marriage featuring far more valleys than peaks, former Jets quarterback Sam Darnold was traded to Carolina in April, giving the signal-caller a fresh start while New York moved on, drafting Zach Wilson second overall.
On Sunday, Darnold will take the field against his former team, donning a Panthers uniform. While he's made it clear that he's focused on his new opportunity, rather than a shot at revenge, it's impossible to believe that there won't be some added motivation for Darnold in Week 1.
So as the quarterback prepares for what could be the beginning of a breakout season in a dynamic offense brimming with playmakers, the Jets' youthful defense is getting ready to line up against a familiar face. Even if Darnold struggled during his tenure with Gang Green, New York's defenders aren't taking this matchup lightly.
"We know what he can do," safety Marcus Maye said Thursday. "We know he has arm talent, we know he uses his legs real well, he can make all the throws. Just got to get him uncomfortable."
It wasn't just Darnold's former locker mate that used the term "uncomfortable" this week. In fact, the consensus from those that have addressed the media leading up to Sunday's opener is that the plan of attack on defense is to be in Darnold's face early and often.
In other words, New York wants to make Darnold see ghosts.
"We all know what type of player Sam is. He's a great player, a great quarterback," said defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers. "He can deliver the ball to each and every person on the field. But we know we just have to make him uncomfortable. Get pressure in his face and win our one on ones and that's what we plan on doing. Make him uncomfortable, knocking people back, making sure he can't see past us and he's running around all game."
One of the problems for Darnold when he suited up for the Jets was a less than desirable supporting cast. With Christian McCaffrey coming out of the backfield and wideouts Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore and Terrace Marshall Jr. serving as threats on the outside, he doesn't have that issue anymore.
In fact, Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said this week that they'll see a "different Sam Darnold" on Sunday, a player that's dropping back in an offense that's conducive to his success.
"I think you’re going to see a different version of him though, from the standpoint of, the system is completely different than what he ran here and they’re going to feature his skillset in a little bit of a different way," Ulbrich explained.
That in mind, the defensive coordinator has given Darnold's former teammates an opportunity to speak up in meetings and on the practice field, a chance for insight to be passed down to the plethora of rookies and new faces that have yet to share a football field with the USC product.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley is one of those players and while his time with Darnold on the Jets was limited over the last few years, the captain admitted that his excitement for Sunday is growing.
When these Jets defenders practiced with Darnold, the quarterback was untouchable. Now, in pursuit of making him uncomfortable both inside and outside of the pocket, he's their number one target from kickoff to the final whistle.
"Anytime you go against a former quarterback that you played with, you get excited because you actually get to hit them now," Mosley said. "We are going against another NFL quarterback that's been proven to make plays in the air and running the ball so after you get past the former teammate part, it's just another opponent that we've got to get ready for."
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