SPARTANBURG, SC — The Carolina Panthers won’t make what coach Matt Rhule called a “major decision” on any position, particularly between quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, until after the Aug. 19 preseason game at New England.
Even then, Rhule might not make a decision if one hasn’t clearly separated from the other after two joint practices in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and the game.
“I’m not putting a timetable on the quarterback position until after we get back from the Patriots week,” Rhule said after Saturday’s scrimmage in which neither quarterback had a decisive advantage. “The Patriots week is a true litmus test for us. That will really show us where guys are.”
Meanwhile, the Panthers may have lost defensive end Marquis Haynes for an extended period of time with a left knee injury suffered while working with the first team. Carolina was already thin at that position and had made a run at 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 dipped to 2.5 last season.
In terms of the quarterbacks, Mayfield began the scrimmage working with the first team in red zone drills and was 1-for-3 on a drive that ended with a touchdown run by Chuba Hubbard. Darnold threw a touchdown pass to fullback Giovanni Ricci on his first play 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 that 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 coverage. Cornerback Myles Hartsfield stripped the ball off the hands of DJ Moore on a Mayfield pass that was 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 off by recently acquired cornerback Tae Hayes near the sideline when he tried to force a pass while scrambling to his right.
Rhule said it was tough to make an immediate judgment on how the quarterbacks performed because of “a disparity between who you’re playing with and who you’re playing against.”
“The disappointing thing is each guy had an interception,” Rhule said. “We’ve got to protect the football.”
Rhule also was disappointed that wide receiver Rashard Higgins reached the ball across the goal line rather than 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 down the imaginary carpet.
The coach had the offense run after that.
“We’re not a team that reaches the ball across the goal line,” Rhule said. “I told the guys after you score a touchdown, celebrate, have fun, this isn’t a true game, but we’re playing it like a game. But [celebrate] in between the white lines.”
Overall, Rhule said there was a lot to like from Mayfield and Darnold in terms of explosive plays and long drives. With players getting Sunday off, Rhule said the staff will “really dig into the tape and see who’s truly mastering the offense and who’s not.”