SPARTANBURG, SC — The Carolina Panthers will not make what coach Matt Rhule described as an “important decision” at any position, particularly between quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, until after the Aug. 19 preseason game in New England.
Even then, Rhule may not make a decision if one hasn’t clearly separated from the other after two practice sessions together in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and the game.
“I’m not going to schedule quarterback position until we get back from Patriots week,” Rhule said after Saturday’s scrimmage, in which neither quarterback had a decisive advantage. “Patriot Week is a real litmus test for us. It will really show us where the boys are.”
Meanwhile, the Panthers may have lost defensive end Marquis Haynes for extended periods, who sustained a left knee injury while working with the first-team. Already skinny at that position, Carolina had made a run on veteran Carlos Dunlap, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Jason Pierre-Paul, 33, is the most notable free agent edge rusher available. He had 9.5 sacks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020 but dropped to 2.5 last season.
As for the quarterbacks, Mayfield started the scrimmage by working with the first team in red-zone drills and was 1-on-3 on a drive that ended with a Chuba Hubbard touchdown run. Darnold threw a touchdown pass to full-back Giovanni Ricci on his first game of red zone practice while working with the second team.
The two did equal reps with the first and second teams during the two-hour practice, which focused on game situations. Mayfield finished 14-to-21 with a long touchdown pass and an interception. Darnold was 20 of 28 with a touchdown and an interception.
On both interceptions, the quarterback attempted to force the ball into tight cover. Cornerback Myles Hartsfield knocked the ball out of DJ Moore’s hands on a Mayfield pass that went slightly past receiver.
Rhule noted that a “penalty kick put Baker behind the chains, so he had to force the ball behind the field”.
Darnold was picked off near the touchline by recently acquired cornerback Tae Hayes as he attempted to force a pass while scrambling to the right.
Rhule said it’s difficult to make instant judgments about quarterback performance because of “a discrepancy between who you’re playing with and who you’re playing against.”
“The disappointing thing is that every player was intercepted,” Rhule said. “We have to protect football.”
Rhule was also disappointed that wide receiver Rashard Higgins got the ball over the goal line instead of running into the end zone after a Mayfield reception. Higgins has also done his patented celebration where he rolls the football as if it were the red carpet and then walks down the imaginary carpet.
The coach then let the offensive run.
“We’re not a team that gets the ball over the goal line,” said Rhule. “I told the guys after you scored a touchdown celebrate, have fun, this isn’t a real game but we play it like a game. but [celebrate] between the white lines.”
Overall, Rhule said Mayfield and Darnold had a lot to like in terms of explosive plays and long drives. With players having Sunday off, Rhule said staff will “really get into the tape and see who’s really mastering offense and who’s not.”