NFL: Panthers, Patriots aiming to improve offenses at joint practices
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 17, 2022
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
AP Sports Writer
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Patriots and Panthers opened two days of joint practices Tuesday both hoping to see progress on the offensive side of the ball.
Carolina is trying to sort out its situation at quarterback after bringing in Baker Mayfield to compete alongside Sam Darnold. New England is still working through tweaks it’s made since former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels left in the offseason for Las Vegas.
Both teams had their moments during the two-hour session. Patriots receiver DeVante Parker continued to be a magnet for catching deep passes. And despite being under relentless pressure from the Patriots defense for a good portion of the day, Mayfield and Darnold both successfully guided the team down the field during hurry-up situations.
The highlights came after two fights broke out minutes apart during the first half of practice that resulted in five players being kicked out.
“That’s what happens when you’re competing, trying to get better,” Parker said. “Things are going to happen.”
Mayfield shined late in the session, completing long balls to Christian McCaffrey and Shi Smith. Darnold also was efficient, leading the team to the red zone before having a ball tipped by defensive tackle LaBryan Ray and intercepted by cornerback Shaun Wade.
Still, Panthers coach Matt Rhule called the time his quarterbacks were able to spend in different simulated game situations productive.
“I was happy to see the two-minute (offense), happy to see us move the ball in the two-minute,” Rhule said. “That’s a really tough situation. There’s no timeouts. The chances of going that far and scoring a touchdown are probably in the high teens, low 20s. So, it was good to get that work.”
Meanwhile, Parker’s emergence as a potential go-to deep option for quarterback Mac Jones would fill a gap in the Patriots offense from last season. As a rookie, Jones averaged just 5.8 yards in the air for every completed pass.
Asked about his ability to win most of the “50-50” deep passes thrown his way, Parker said it’s always been a staple of his game.
“That’s something I’ve been having since I was in high school and I brought it to the NFL,” he said. “If it’s thrown in the area, it’s mine.”
The Panthers didn’t come out of Tuesday’s session unscathed.
Center Bradley Bozeman left on a cart after suffering an apparent leg injury after getting tangled up during an 11-on-11 period.
He was able to sit upright and get to his feet on his own power. But he walked gingerly with trainers to a nearby cart before heading to the locker room.
The 6-foot-5, 325-pounder signed with the Panthers as a free agent this offseason after starting 48 of 49 games the previous three seasons for the Baltimore Ravens.
Bozeman was brought in to improve the Panthers offensive line, which allowed 52 sacks in 2021 — the fifth most in the NFL. He played left guard in 2019 and 2020 before moving to center last season.
He has been competing for the starting job at center with Pat Elflein, who began the day lined up with Carolina’s projected first-team offense.
With the first and second units for both teams split on different fields for simultaneous 11-on-11 drills, tempers flared on an otherwise mild afternoon.
The first incident occurred after Patriots receiver Kristian Wilkerson made a catch near the sideline. As he was going out of bounds, a Panthers player appeared to try to jar the ball loose. Wilkerson took issue and a large scrum ensued.
Patriots receiver Kendrick Bourne was in the middle of it as well and could be seen shoving a few players. Once it was broken up by coaches, all three players were ejected — a pre-practice agreement between coach Bill Belichick and Rhule on how they’d handle any potential fights.
The brief scuffle didn’t stop another one from erupting about 10 minutes later, this time involving Panthers defensive tackle Phil Hoskins and Patriots offensive lineman James Ferentz. They were soon sent to the locker room as well.
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