Panthers rookie QB Matt Corral regrets shying away from competition in college

JEFF SINER/jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
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Droplets of sweat from the South Carolina sun dripped down Matt Corral’s face as he spoke to reporters at the onset of training camp Tuesday.

Most of the discussion around Panthers camp has focused on the two quarterbacks fighting for the starting job — Baker Mayfield, who the team traded for this summer, and Sam Darnold — but the addition also pushes Corral down the depth chart, where he can study a complicated playbook further.

When asked about dealing with a quarterback competition, Corral looked back to his college days at Ole Miss.

“I took the easy way out because I felt I could play right away,” he said about his decision to go to Oxford, Miss. “Knowing what I know now and trusting my instincts and trusting my work ethic, I would have went to a place that would have made me compete.”

As a true freshman, Corral played four games before being redshirted. He played three more years at Ole Miss as a starter, culminating in his redshirt junior campaign where he started 13 games, threw for 3,349 yards, passed for 20 touchdowns and ran for 11 more.

The 23-year-old cost Carolina two picks (a 2022 fourth-round pick and a 2023 third-round pick) that they used to move up to the No. 94 overall selection — a sizable commitment for a player slated to be the third-string quarterback.

According a source with direct knowledge, general manager Scott Fitterer called Corral after the draft to reassure him he’d remain the team’s future of the position, a very real possibility considering both Mayfield and Darnold are on expiring contracts.

When asked about that conversation, Corral said that while he’d only been in the league for a short time, he understood that the NFL operated as a business.

“You can only control what you can control and right now mine is just learning the playbook and putting my best foot forward,” he said. “ ... There’s definitely a lot to learn. I’m in a rush but I’m not, if that makes sense.”

That process of learning the playbook is a key reason why Corral isn’t expected to be a serious competitor for the team’s starting job.

The transition between Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin’s system to Panthers’ offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s hasn’t been easy even as Corral’s made good progress during the offseason.

“The biggest thing is just being consistent with (studying the playbook),” Corral said. He said he’s been waking up at 5:30 a.m. and sleeping at 10 p.m., using any free time he has in the day to study the material.

That studying is required, according to veteran Panthers players. Wide receiver DJ Moore, who’s entering his fifth season, called the scheme “complicated in a good way.”

“Once you got it, you got it,” he said. “If you don’t got it, you definitely don’t got it.”