Panthers training camp: Baker Mayfield vs. Sam Darnold, Day 9



Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield makes a pass during a practice at training camp Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule is in no rush to name a starting quarterback.

Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold participate in an open scrimmage during Panthers training camp, which continued Saturday in Spartanburg, South Carolina, at Wofford College. The ninth day of camp featured a two-hour scrimmage in which Mayfield and Darnold took turns working with both the first- and second-team offenses.

Through two weeks of camp, Mayfield has outplayed Darnold, generating more explosive plays through the air. His 40-plus yard touchdown catches with Robbie Anderson and Rashard Higgins are camp highlights. But Darnold keeps things close by quickly distributing the ball to the tight ends and running backs, occasionally making some intermediate throws.

After practice, Ruhl said he doesn’t plan to assign starters at “any position” or shape the depth chart until after the team’s second preseason game.

Carolina travels to New England for a joint practice with the Patriots on Aug. 16 before a preseason game on Saturday night (Aug. 19).

“Patriot Week is like a real litmus test for us. It will really show us where the guys are. So we’ll continue to break down the reps. And then we will make some assessments of today’s tape. We’ll do some evaluations after training camp ends in Ufford on Wednesday. And then probably after the Patriots game,” Rule said. “For me, the quarterback, as we’ve said all along, it’s when we know, we know, and we’re not going to rush it.”

Carolina is off on Sunday and then returns to Spartanburg on Monday before camp breaks on Wednesday. Fan Fest will be held Thursday at Bank of America Stadium.

Mayfield and Darnold had effective practices Saturday. The team made practice as game-like as possible, starting snaps with a punt return and letting the offense move up the field against the defense. The chain gang and the judges had a busy morning.

Mayfield and Higgins did the drill. On Mayfield’s third drive, he connected with “Hollywood” Higgins for a 45-yard touchdown. Higgins changed his route when a Panthers cornerback found himself on his route. Instead of taking up the covered space, Higgins punched his route deep. Mayfield noticed this and unleashed a bomb that hit Higgins in stride for a touchdown.

Higgins pushed the ball over the goal line and then made his debut signature celebration on the red carpet while his teammates celebrated around him. Mayfield ran into the end zone to snap a picture of his former Browns teammate with his imaginary camera.

However, the fun was short-lived. Ruhl immediately stopped training and explained to his players about the premature celebration. After his 50-second conversion, He had the forwards sprint from sideline to sideline.

“We’re not a team that gets the ball over the goal line. I told the guys, ‘Hey, after you score a touchdown, celebrate and have fun today.’ I just wanted to make sure they all understand that we’re not going to win if we don’t defend the football,” Rule said. “I wanted the defense to understand that we can’t give up the explosiveness and the offense to understand that we don’t celebrate until the game is over.”

Mayfield made a play in practice, but is that enough for him to win the day? Let’s delve into their performances.

Baker Mayfield

Stats (unofficial): 15 for 22, TD, INT

The real winners of Saturday’s game were the Panthers offensive line and running backs Christian McCaffrey, D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard. Carolina’s offense was effective against the defense using a variety of gap runs and feeding schemes. All three running backs scored at least one touchdown.

Hubbard scored twice, once on a Mayfield drive and the other off Sam Darnold. When Hubbard scored the first goal, rookie tackle Ikem Ekwonu made a key block while Hubbard made a strong outside tackle down the left side. Mayfield completed 1 of 2 touchdown passes. Carolina started in the middle of the field and scored on seven plays that included five runs and a screen pass.

Mayfield came alive later in practice. On his third drive, he completed five straight passes, culminating in a deep touchdown to Higgins.

On the previous drive, Mayfield threw an interception to Miles Hartsfield on a deep route intended for DJ Moore. The pass might be a little behind Moore, but it reached both of his hands. Hartsfield just outplayed Moore, stripping him of the ball to complete the interception.

Best Shot: Mayfield-Higgins continues to gain momentum as the duo builds chemistry in Cleveland. Ten of Higgins’ 12 career touchdowns have come from Mayfield. Only tight ends David Njoku (11) and Jarvis Landry (14) have caught more touchdowns than Mayfield. Any Browns fan could elaborate on the duo’s innate bond on the field. In 2019, during a regular season game against Buffalo, Higgins caught Mayfield’s game-winning touchdown pass as time expired. It was one of the few shots — and the only goal — Higgins earned the entire game.

Notable error: Mayfield threw another interception as described above. He had more days with a turnover than without.

Sam Darnold

Stats (unofficial): 19 for 28, TD, INT

Darnold opened practice on fire. After Mayfield started with the first team and scored seven times, Darnold scored a touchdown on his first throw. From the 25-yard line, Darnold threw a touchdown to quarterback Giovanni Ricci. Ritchie started near the line of scrimmage, faked a block up top and took off to the corner pylon.

Darnold dropped a pass right into his outstretched arms and quickly scored six points. On the next drive, he made double contact with Higgins and slot receiver Shea Smith. The drive ended with a short field goal by Zane Gonzalez.

But Darnold threw a needless interception on the drive after Mayfield’s turnover. The interception came as Darnold rolled to his right to avoid pressure and extend the play. Darnold attempted a sideline throw to undrafted free agent Ra’Sean Henry, but newly signed cornerback Tay Hayes stepped up to the pass and deflected it.

Best Shot: Darnold started practice with Richie’s dime-toss touchdown, but didn’t build on that momentum.

Notable error: Darnold threw another avoidable interception. It was his most egregious loss of the camp.

Who won the day?

Mayfield won the practice, but it was close again. After all, either Mayfield or Darnold could create a major gap by putting together a pair of turnover-free drills.

“It’s disappointing that we had two interceptions. Every guy had an interception. We have to protect football,” Rule said. “But I’ve seen some good things. Both guys had explosive games. So we’re going to really dig into the tape and see who really owns the offense and who doesn’t. In the next few days, we, the coaches, have a lot of work to do.”

Total wins this preseason

Baker Mayfield 4

Sam Darnold 3

PJ Walker/Matt Corral 1

This story was originally published August 6, 2022 at 3:14 p.m.

A native of Minnesota, Ellis L. Williams joined the Observer in October 2021 to cover the Carolina Panthers. Prior to that, he spent two years reporting on the Browns for Plain Dealer. After escaping the cold winters, he is excited to absorb the football, players, music and movies in the Queen City.

Panthers training camp: Baker Mayfield vs. Sam Darnold, Day 9

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