Rhule: Panthers want to avoid ‘wrong decision’ in QB battle

Published 11:55 pm Monday, August 8, 2022

By Steve Reed
AP Sports Writer

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Two weeks into training camp and the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback situation remains unsettled.

Coach Matt Rhule said both Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold have had good days, but he’s not ready to declare a starter. Rhule said that decision could come after the team’s second preseason game against the New England Patriots on Aug. 19, one that would allow one quarterback to settle in and get the majority of the work in practice.

In the meantime, Mayfield and Darnold — the No. 1 and 3 overall picks in the 2018 draft, respectively — continue to split reps at Wofford College as the Panthers work through the process.

Rhule said the Panthers haven’t wanted to rush the decision, saying “the important thing is finding the right guy.”

“I don’t want to start one guy and then realize after two games we made the wrong decision and go back to the other guy,” Rhule said.

Rhule hasn’t decided who’ll start the team’s preseason opener on Saturday night at Washington.

When asked if there has been any separation between the QBs at camp, Rhule said, “I know that one quarterback has played better than the other quarterback one day and then there has been some other things the next day. … I think it’s been back and forth.”

Rhule said he expects both Mayfield and Darnold on the final 53-man roster, along with a third quarterback. He was quick to point out the need for depth, citing that only 12 NFL quarterbacks started all 17 regular-season games last season.

So, the competition rages on.

Mayfield has refrained from rocking the boat and saying he deserves to be the starter, even though he has looked sharper than Darnold at training camp.

“It’s probably human nature to want more reps,” Mayfield said. “Sam would probably say the same thing. To me it’s about improving — to get myself to be playing the best quarterback I can and to be playing at a high level. I’m just going to put my head down and work. That’s what I know how to do.”

Rhule said Mayfield, who’s still learning offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s playbook after being acquired on July 6, is “definitely improving.”

“He’s getting more and more of a feel for what he can do at the line of scrimmage,” Rhule said. “What he has done in 10 practices is really impressive. He’s making good jumps.”

Mayfield said he has enjoyed the quarterback competition with Darnold, saying the two have regularly discussed their ups and downs in the league and tried to help each other as much as possible.

“It’s not about trying to stab one another in the back,” Mayfield said. “It’s about elevating because the franchise and the team goes as the QB room goes. I was taught that at a young age and if we can elevate everybody, that is great.”

Darnold said both QBs understand the situation.

“We both want to be the starter and we are both going to put ourselves in a good position to try to be that guy for the team,” Darnold said. “But at the end of the day it’s not up to us. It’s up to the coaches, and the front office.”

NOTES: Panthers rookie Ickey Ekwonu, the No. 6 pick in the draft, opened practice Monday as the team’s first-team left tackle for the first time since the start of training camp. He had been working behind Brady Christensen, who has moved inside to first-team left guard ahead of Michael Jordan. “We’re going to be more aggressive in giving (Ekwonu) some reps and just moving the lineups around a little bit,” Rhule said. … Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn (foot) and C.J. Henderson (ankle) have both returned to practice on a limited basis after missing time last week. … Panthers DE Marquis Haynes is listed as day to day after injuring his knee on Saturday.