FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — With each pass, or each day that passes, Baker Mayfield gets a little more comfortable with the Panthers.
He even has moments where he's teaching instead of learning all the time.
The competition for the Panthers' starting quarterback job between Mayfield and Sam Darnold hasn't been declared, and head coach Matt Rhule said again Wednesday it would be at least after this week before it would. But he's seen progress, particularly in red zone and two-minute situations, where they were looking for improvement.
"When we know, we know," Rhule reiterated. "It could be two weeks; it could be now. I know that's not the answer you guys want. We're just making sure we're thorough."
But for his part, Mayfield's trying to keep his focus on the small things he knows he needs to do.
"To be honest with you, I haven't been worried about when the decision is going to be made or any of that, timeline-wise," Mayfield said. I've just tried to put my head down and handle it one day at a time. And that's been the mindset for both Sam and I.
"Just, how can we be playing the best ball at the end of camp and just handle it correctly? I've said it before: the locker room and the organization is going to go as the QB room goes, and as long as we're leading correctly and we're supporting each other, good things are going to happen. So we're not worried about when that's going to happen, just trying to get better each day."
To their credit, they've participated in one of the most civil competitions in football history, genuinely supporting each other as they've gone through this thing. Darnold called it "a healthy competition," and he's celebrated plays Mayfield has made while he's also doing everything he can for his own future.
"Like I said, It's up to the coaches," Darnold said. "I'm doing everything I can in this moment to put myself in a position to, first of all, play good football. And hopefully, that will put me in a position to win the job."
But since Mayfield's the new one, coming over in a trade a few weeks before camp, he's the object of fascination, even for Patriots fans who clamored for his autograph after practice.
"The two times I've played here, they have not been very pleasant," he said with a grin of the locals.
But he's finding a more comfortable welcome in his own huddle, and in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's playbook.
"It's no longer thinking and processing as much," Mayfield said. "It's more second nature, going through progressions, and when the play-calls come in, really understanding what coach McAdoo is wanting to get accomplished when he calls certain plays, and getting that relationship and that rapport together.
"I'm at the point now where it feels really, really comfortable for me. Yeah, I'm in a great spot. Obviously, there are always little things you're trying to improve. It's never complacent, I haven't figured it out."
And he's also become a shoulder for Corral to lean on, as Mayfield said some of the growing pains the rookie is going through are familiar to him after his college career.
"To be honest with you, I know exactly how Matt is mentally right now," Mayfield said. "Just coming from an offense in college where there's no huddles, it's all signal based, and being able to try and give back a little bit. Because my head was spinning my rookie year, and I know how he feels. Just trying to help him ease his mind, and get his confidence up. He's here for a reason, but it takes work. It's definitely a huge difference in the grind and preparation from college to this level, so trying to support him any way I can."
Again, this quarterback situation has been conducted about as professionally as you can expect by all of them. Mayfield's helping Corral, Darnold is fist-pumping when Mayfield makes a play, Mayfield acknowledges when Darnold's helping him. None of them are old, but they're all being incredibly adult about this thing.
"They're both two great competitors," McCaffrey said of Mayfield and Darnold. "They both show up every day with a competitive but respectful mindset, and bring a lot of good energy, and compete at a high level."
They've also taken turns standing out in practice. If you were looking for themes, it wouldn't be inaccurate to say Mayfield's looking more and more comfortable during his time with the ones. But Darnold also made perhaps the best throw of the day, hitting rookie Derek Wright in the corner of the end zone in a near-impossible spot.
"Last play of the game, trying to scramble and make a play happen," Darnold said. "We had to score a touchdown. I was just trying to put the ball in the end zone in a spot where he could get it. The DB's head was turned to the receiver; I knew that if I just put it in a spot where Derek could potentially catch it, he would make a play on it."
Of course, a lot of that got lost in the fighting Wednesday.
"I'd love to be talking two-minute right now and Sam scrambling and making an excellent throw," Rhule said, while knowing that for that moment, the quarterback competition had temporarily faded from view.
But for the guys involved, it continues. The top of the depth chart doesn't figure to play much against the Patriots Friday night, so every one of these reps matters.
Mayfield's getting better. Darnold's not yielding.
And though he's coming off a down year with the Browns after a non-throwing shoulder injury, Mayfield's also still confident in his own ability, enough that he could have some fun with the Patriots fans who have booed him in the past.
"Coming back heathy, it's not a redemption year," he said. "I know what I'm capable of. I'm not trying to prove anything to anybody else. I'm just trying to lead this locker room the best I can and win a bunch of ball games."
View photos from Wednesday's practice with the New England Patriots in Foxborough.