As Panthers training camp ends, Mayfield-Darnold quarterback battle still unresolved

Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez/mrodriguez@charlotteobserver.com
·3 min read

Matt Rhule entered training camp with the goal of having his team come together in the isolated environment of Wofford College.

On Wednesday, the last day of camp in Spartanburg, the Panthers’ coach spoke to media and delved further into his reasoning for having the team leave Charlotte and travel south.

“In a world where most of our guys have other things going in their lives … having the opportunity to get away and just bond,” he said. “It’s great when phones go down and decks of cards come out. It’s great when phones go down and ping-pong paddles come out.”

Rhule saw the Panthers become a more physical squad as they battled against each other, saying that the team “got out of this what we wanted to” but saying that the team now moves “on to the next phase.”

Wednesday’s practice featured only third-teamers as the first two units got the day off, but Rhule’s comments gave further insight on what to expect from the Panthers moving forward.

QB situation still muddled

The Panthers have yet to decide how time will be divided up in Saturday’s preseason opener against the Washington Commanders. Rhule said both Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield will get a chance to play.

The evaluation process for both quarterbacks remains ongoing, with coaches looking at new evidence and insights each day, Rhule said. He called both players competitors and said the quarterback battle has been healthy for the team.

Rhule’s looking for a quarterback who masters the fundamentals of the offense, plays well in situational football and can make plays when needed to get the ball to the Carolina playmakers.

“When you have those three things then you have your starting quarterback,” he said.

Injury update

CJ Saunders strained his quad and will be out three to four weeks, Rhule said. The coach also added that Ian Thomas got hit in the ribs and has a “little cartilage banged up” that will sideline him for around two weeks, depending on the pain.

Third-string standouts

A pair of third-teamers caught Rhule’s eye during Wednesday’s practice. He singled out tight end Jared Scott, an undrafted free agent rookie, who he said made some nice plays. The Panthers have two established tight ends on the roster in Thomas and Tommy Tremble.

Madre Harper also played well, Rhule said, making a pair of nice tackles and nearly picking off a pass in the end zone.

“This was key for those guys,” the coach said. “I thought those two … stood out to me on the field.”

Matt Corral gets extended reps

With Mayfield and Darnold not practicing, Corral got the chance to step into a larger role. Rhule said it’s difficult to evaluate quarterbacks before going back and watching the film but said that the rookie performed well through camp in his limited chances.

“He’s really coming along,” Rhule said. “There’s no question about Matt’s ability to throw the football, and he sees the field really well.”

He added that Corral’s development will largely be focused on continuing to adapt to the NFL, but that the rookie’s eagerness to do the work required has sped up that process.

Jaycee Horn gets in work

Horn, the second-year cornerback who dealt with injury issues and started camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, practiced Wednesday as part of the team’s plan in his recovery.

“Jaycee wants to be out there every moment he can be out there,” Rhule said. “He’ll be ready to go and turn loose here really shortly.”

Soreness in his surgically repaired foot sidelined Horn to start camp, but the team put him out there in red-zone snaps to ensure he got snaps where he didn’t have to run at full speed. Rhule said the team wants to ensure Horn doesn’t have a soft tissue injury.