SPARTANBURG, SC — The Carolina Panthers won’t make a “major decision” about any position until after the August 19 preseason game in New England, especially between quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold.
Even then, Rhule may not make a decision if one isn’t clearly separated from the other after two joint practices in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and the game.
“I’m not putting a time frame on the quarterback position until after we get back from Patriots week,” Rhule said after Saturday’s scrimmage in which neither quarterback had a decisive advantage. “Patriots week is a real litmus test for us. That will really show us where guys are.”
Meanwhile, the Panthers may have lost the defensive end to Marquis Haynes for an extended period of time with a left knee injury they sustained while working with the first team. Already thin in 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 outstanding free agent edge rusher out there. He had 9.5 sacks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020, but dropped to 2.5 last season.
As for the quarterbacks, Mayfield kicked off the scrimmage by working with the first team in red zone drills, going 1-for-3 on a drive that ended with a touchdown from Chuba Hubbard. Darnold threw a touchdown pass to fullback Giovanni Ricci in his first game of red zone drills while working with the second team.
The two took equal reps with the first and second teams throughout the two-hour practice focused on game situations. Mayfield finished 14-for-21 with a long touchdown pass and one interception. Darnold was 20-of-28 with a touchdown and an interception.
Both interceptions came with the quarterback trying to force the ball into tight cover. Cornerback Myles Hartsfield stripped the ball out of DJ Moore’s hands on a Mayfield pass thrown slightly behind the receiver.
Rhule noted that a “penalty put Baker behind the chains, so he had to force the ball behind the field.”
Darnold was picked by recently acquired cornerback Tae Hayes on the sidelines when he tried to force a pass as he scrambled to the right.
Rhule said it was difficult to make an immediate judgment about how the quarterbacks performed because of “a difference between who you play with and who you play against.”
“The disappointing thing is that every man had an interception,” Rhule said. “We have to protect football.”
Rhule was also disappointed that wide receiver Rashard Higgins reached the ball over the goal line instead of running into the end zone after a reception from Mayfield. Higgins also did his patented celebration in which he rolls the football like it’s the red carpet and then walks the imaginary carpet.
The coach then let the attack go.
“We are not a team that reaches the ball over the goal line,” said Rhule. “I said to the boys after you scored a touchdown, celebrate it, have fun, this is not a real game, but we play it like a game. But [celebrate] between the white lines.”
Overall, Rhule said there was a lot to enjoy from Mayfield and Darnold in terms of explosive plays and long rides. With players being released on Sunday, Rhule said the staff will “really dig into the tape and see who has really mastered the attack and who hasn’t.”