SPARTANBURG, SC — The Carolina Panthers won’t make what coach Matt Rhule called a “major decision” at any position, particularly between quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, until after the Aug. 19 preseason game at New York. England.
Even then, Rhule might not make a decision if one hasn’t clearly separated from the other after two joint practices in Foxborough, Mass., and the game.
“I’m not going to put a schedule on the quarterback position until we get back from Patriots week,” Rhule said after Saturday’s practice in which neither quarterback had a decisive lead. “Patriots week is a real litmus test for us. That will really show us where the guys are at.”
Meanwhile, the Panthers may have lost defensive end Marquis Haynes for an extended period due to a left knee injury he suffered while working with the first team. Carolina was already thin at that position and had sought out veteran Carlos Dunlap, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Jason Pierre-Paul, 33, is the most notable free agent 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 began practice working with the first team in red zone drills and went 1-for-3 on a drive that ended with a Chuba Hubbard touchdown run. Darnold threw a touchdown pass to fullback Giovanni Ricci on his first red-zone drill play while working with the second team.
The two did equal reps with the first and second teams during the two-hour practice that focused on game situations. Mayfield went 14-for-21 with a long touchdown pass and an interception. Darnold was 20-for-28 with a touchdown and an interception.
Both interceptions came with the quarterback trying to force the ball into tight coverage. Cornerback Myles Hartsfield stripped the ball from DJ Moore on a Mayfield pass that was thrown slightly behind the receiver.
Rhule noted that a “penalty kick put Baker behind the chains, so he had to force the ball behind the field.”
Darnold was intercepted by recently acquired cornerback Tae Hayes near the sideline when he tried to force a pass while moving to his right.
Rhule said it was difficult to make an immediate judgment on how quarterbacks performed because of “the disparity between who you play with and who you play against.”
“The disappointing thing is that every player had an interception,” Rhule said. “We have to protect the ball.”
Rhule was also disappointed that wide receiver Rashard Higgins crossed the goal line with the ball instead of running into the end zone after a Mayfield catch. Higgins also did his patented celebration in which he rolls the soccer ball like it’s the red carpet and then walks the imaginary carpet.
The coach ran the offense after that.
“We’re not a team that crosses the finish line with the ball,” Rhule said. “I told the guys after you score a touchdown, celebrate, have fun, this is not a real game, but we’re playing it like a game. But [celebrate] between the white lines.
Overall, Rhule said there was a lot to like about Mayfield and Darnold in terms of explosive plays and long drives. With the players having Sunday byes, Rhule said the staff will “really dig into the tape and see who really dominates the offense and who doesn’t.”