New York Jets QB Sam Darnold takes all first-team reps at practice

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Desperate for a victory, the winless New York Jets are hoping quarterback Sam Darnold can return to the lineup this weekend and provide a much-needed spark.

On Wednesday, Darnold practiced for the first time in nearly three weeks, testing his injured right shoulder with the goal of starting Sunday against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium.

He took all the first-team reps in practice, according to backup Joe Flacco -- a clear indication the Jets are preparing to start him. Flacco, limited to scout-team reps, said Darnold looked fine.

"The ball was spinning and coming at guys, so I thought he looked really good," Flacco said.

Jets coach Adam Gase said before the practice that the plan was to "eliminate unnecessary throwing" during other periods in practice.

Darnold has missed two straight games, and four of the past six, because of a sprained AC joint that occurred Oct. 1 against the Denver Broncos.

While Gase believes "things are trending in the right direction" for Darnold to start Sunday, it's important to note there also was optimism before the Week 9 game against the New England Patriots -- until Darnold pulled himself out of practice three days before the game.

At the time, Darnold said his shoulder didn't feel right, so he sat out the game, rested during the bye week and began a throwing regimen to rebuild his shoulder strength.

On Monday, he sounded upbeat about his progress, saying, "The shoulder feels good throwing and doing all the things I need to do. At this point, it's just getting hit and how it responds to that."

There's no contact in practice, so they won't know that until he plays in a game. Darnold said he will have a good feeling for that based on how his shoulder responds to the stress of throwing in practice.

That's the only issue for Gase.

"I'm not worried about structural damage or something like that. It's just ... is he going to be able to recover if he gets hit and driven into the ground?" he said. "Is that pain going to be so much to where he can't go anymore? That's the last thing you want to have happen -- first series of the game, that happens and, all of a sudden, now we have an issue."

Flacco is 0-4 as the replacement starter with six touchdown passes and three interceptions, including a pick-six in last week's loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Jets (0-10) enjoyed their most productive days on offense in the past two games, totaling 55 points, in part because their receiving corps played together for the first time. Injuries prevented that from happening in the first eight games.

While some may believe it would be prudent to shut down Darnold for the remainder of the season, Gase said he wants to see how his quarterback performs with a complete supporting cast.

"That would be probably my No. 1 thing I'd love to see," Gase said.