The Carolina Panthers wrapped up their seventh day of training camp practice Wednesday. The team will have a closed walk through Thursday before practice reopens for fans and media Friday.
With a week in the books, what have we learned about the Panthers? Keep reading to find out.
The Panthers entered training camp with an open competition for starting quarterback between Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield. If a starter had to be named today – after seven full practices (three in pads) of Darnold and Mayfield splitting first team reps – the choice would be Baker. Mayfield has been more efficient in the red zone and has shown the ability (and willingness) to go for and connect on the explosive plays that have eluded the Panthers the last couple of years. Sam came in with better knowledge of McAdoo’s playbook, after working with him during the offseason, but it hasn’t taken Baker a long time to erase that early disadvantage. It’s tough to beat a confident player with a chip the size of Ohio on his shoulder. Unless Mayfield stinks it up in preseason games, it’s his job to lose.
Note: Don’t expect the Rhule to announce a starting quarterback any time soon. My guess is that we will officially find out after the team’s joint practices and preseason game against the Patriots. Until then, the competition continues.
The Pass Rush:
With the departure of Haason Reddick, heading into training camp the Panthers had a need for pass rusher opposite Brian Burns. That need is still there. Coming into camp general manager Scott Fitterer said the team was looking for Marquis Haynes and Yetur Gross-Matos to step into that role. While Haynes has shown flashes and Gross-Matos is just entering his third season, neither has stood out so far during training camp. Preseason games will paint a clearer picture, but expect Fitt to work the waiver wire to fill this void along the defensive line.
Whenever a defensive back is asked about new coach Steve Wilkes he smiles. There’s no question that the veteran coach has made an immediate impact in that room. With his arrival, the emergence of CJ Henderson, a healthy Jaycee Horn and veteran Donte Jackson, this could be the best defensive back group the Panthers have fielded – ever. Historically, the Panthers have always been stronger up front defensively, that could change this year with potentially three shut-down corners on the roster.
Brady Christensen has been working with the ones at the left tackle position and has looked solid in that role. This year’s first round draft pick Ikem Ekwonu, who coach Matt Rhule says has a lot to learn, will have to earn his spot. Taylor Moton is a staple on the right, but who will start at left tackle and on the interior is still up in the air. Getting better along the offensive line was a focus for the Panthers this offseason. They accomplished that goal, but with only three days of padded practice exactly how much they’ve improved is still up in the air.
After two years under his belt, Matt Rhule seems to be coming into his own. He’s added veteran coaches to his staff and has seemingly worked well with Scott Fitterer. Historically, Rhule has seen vast improvement in year three – albeit among the college ranks. With that said, there’s something different about Coach Rhule and this team. There’s a quiet and subtle confidence. Despite fan criticism, David Tepper has rolled with Rhule. The mark of a good leader is the ability to trust their process, but also be aware enough to know when changes need to be made. Rhule did that with the addition of respected veteran coaches with NFL head coaching experience. It may not be much of a story now, but these moves were some of the most impactful of the offseason and a credit to growth of Matt Rhule.