Wednesday, the Carolina Panthers held their final joint practice with the New England Patriots before the two meet Friday for their second preseason game. Here are my observations from the action-filled session.
I usually start my practice observations discussing the quarterback competition between Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, but today the on-field scuffles between the Panthers and Patriots are the leading story. Yesterday, I reported on the squabbling between Carolina’s defense and New England’s offense, but it was the Panthers’ offense that got things popping Wednesday. A mashup during kickoff drills was the appetizer that led to the main course – a huge fight that spilled into the stands filled with fans. While running out of bounds, Christian McCaffrey was hit by Pats defender Deatrich Wise. McCaffrey immediately took exception with the play and threw the ball at Wise – spurring a sideline-clearing brawl. It took several minutes for coaches to calm both teams down – issuing warnings that if another incident occurred the joint session would end. Although there weren’t any more fights, the Panthers’ message was sent; We’re going to ride for each other. If you knuck, we’re going to buck. Fighting isn’t the most productive way to display camaraderie, but I’d rather have my teammates rush to defend me and ask questions later.
Baker Mayfield didn’t do anything to lose what I believe will be his role as starting quarterback and Sam Darnold didn’t do anything to win it. Both guys alternated snaps with the first team as they went through team drills. The offense under Mayfield found the end zone on back to back snaps during the red zone period. The first was on a shuffle pass to McCaffrey and the second was a touchdown pass to DJ Moore. Alternatively, Darnold was intercepted by Jalen on his first play during two-minute drills. The pass was intended for Moore. Sam did redeem himself – leading the second team to the end zone during his next two-minute drill with a touchdown to Derek Wright.
Note: PJ Walker and Matt Corral played one series each.
Matt Rhule says he and his staff are being “thorough” when it comes to naming the starting quarterback – and that means looking at all the tape from practice and limited preseason snaps before announcing their decision. During training camp he pinpointed this week’s joint practice with New England as a key indicator in their evaluation. As he did in Spartanburg, Mayfield continues to look like the quarterback who gives the Panthers the best opportunity to win. With the two’s and three’s expected to take the majority of the snaps during Friday’s preseason game, I anticipate an official announcement will be made in the coming days.
Did the Panthers get better in Foxboro? I think so. The offense showed improvement from day one to day two – going up against playmakers like Matthew Judon and Jalen Mills. The defense showed flashes of how great they can be, making moving the ball virtually impossible during two minute drills (although there’s still work to be done in the red zone).
The Panthers and Patriots will take the field Friday night at 7pm in Foxboro.