SPARTANBURG, South Carolina — 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, before the preseason game. -August 19 season against 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, Mass., and the game.
“I’m not putting a timeline on the quarterback position before our Patriots comeback this week,” Rhule said after Saturday’s scrimmage in which neither quarterback had a decisive advantage. “Patriots week is a real litmus test for us. It will really show us where the guys are at.”
Meanwhile, the Panthers may have lost defensive end Marquis Haynes for an extended period to a left knee injury sustained while working with the first team. Carolina was already slim in that position and had made a run against 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 fell to 2.5 last season.
As for the quarterbacks, Mayfield started the scrimmage working with the first team in red zone drills and was 1 for 3 on a drive that ended with a touchdown by Chuba Hubbard. Darnold threw a touchdown pass to fullback Giovanni Ricci on his first game of practice in the red zone while working with the second team.
The two took equal reps with the first and second teams throughout the two-hour situation-focused practice. Mayfield finished 14 for 21 with a long touchdown pass and an 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 knocked the ball off DJ Moore on a pass from Mayfield that was thrown slightly behind the receiver.
Rhule noted that a “penalty kick put Baker in chains, so he had to force the ball behind the pitch.”
Darnold was picked off by recently acquired cornerback Tae Hayes near the sideline when he tried to force a pass while rushing to his right.
Rhule said it’s hard to make an immediate judgment on quarterback performance because of “a disparity between who you play against and who you play against.”
“What’s disappointing is every guy had an interception,” Rhule said. “We have to protect football.”
Rhule was also 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 up as if it were the red carpet, then walks the imaginary carpet.
The coach ran the attack after that.
“We are not a team that reaches the ball across the goal line,” Rhule said. “I said to the guys after I scored a touchdown, celebrate, have fun, it’s not a real game, but we’re playing it like a game. But [celebrate] between the white lines.”
Overall, Rhule said there was a lot to like about Mayfield and Darnold in terms of explosive plays and long drives. With the players off on Sunday, Rhule said the staff are “really digging into the strip and seeing who really gets the offense down and who doesn’t.”