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Carolina Panthers

Baker Mayfield not taking this opportunity for granted

Baker Mayfield

CHARLOTTE – Baker Mayfield said he didn't know when he would learn the result of the Panthers' quarterback competition between him and Sam Darnold.

All he knew was that a starter would be announced at some point, and that none of them counted down the days to the decision.

So when head coach Matt Rhule held a one-on-one meeting with Mayfield on Monday morning to tell him he'd be Carolina's starting quarterback, Rhule said Mayfield was "stoic and professional."

Mayfield carried that same serious attitude in front of the media after practice, when he gave his first comments since winning the job.

"We were competing, but it was always about the team and trying to win," Mayfield said. "Coach Rhule made sure to continue to emphasize that. Going forward, that's always going to be the emphasis."

Mayfield was traded to Carolina on July 6, and had about two weeks of "cramming" to learn offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's playbook before training camp started in Spartanburg.

From that point on, it was game-on for Mayfield, who had spent four seasons in Cleveland and led the Browns to their first playoff win since 1994 before his production dwindled due to injuries.

Now Mayfield has officially won the job over Darnold, last year's starter at Carolina, and the new QB1 said he's feeling "extremely" healthy.

"I'm loving football again," Mayfield said. "A fresh start is great for everyone every once in a while, and I'm just going to take this opportunity and not take it for granted."

Mayfield won the role in part because of the way he impressed Rhule by picking up the Panthers' offense quickly.

After emphasizing throughout camp and Carolina's first two preseason games that the starting quarterback decision would be a matter of "when we know, we know," Rhule could finally say he was certain of the answer by Monday.

"We felt like Baker's made a lot of progress in a short amount of time," Rhule said. "So we felt like it was right to make that move for this team right now."

Known for being a passionate player, Mayfield said he hadn't held back any of his off-field personality since getting to Carolina, affirming that he's been cutting up with his new teammates and having fun.

He did say, however, that the process of learning the offense and having the game slow down from moving "a thousand miles an hour" has helped him grow more comfortable on the field.

"I had to learn to do my job, first and foremost, learn that offense," Mayfield said. "Obviously, there's still room to grow. . . . It was just trying to handle the hard part of getting everything down first before letting the personality and stuff come out.

"The passion's going to come out regardless, on the field, just because we're competing. I love playing this game of football. I truly enjoy it, so that side of me is always going to come out."

The competition between Mayfield and Darnold remained civil and even friendly, Rhule said, as the two split reps in practice but also grew closer.

Mayfield said it was going to be that way between him and Darnold, who were the first and third overall picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, respectively. Even though they were in each other's way on a depth chart, they weren't going to let it bring out negativity.

"We both wanted to play; there's no way around that," Mayfield said. "We're not going to sugarcoat it, but that's just who he is, and that's who I was going to be regardless. We're going to support (each other). We're going to try and win."

In his first press conference as the starter, Mayfield said that while he's moving on from the "transition phase" of getting settled with the offense at Carolina, the last thing he was going to become as the starter is too comfortable.

"As soon as we get complacent, it would be handling it the wrong way," Mayfield said. "That's just not how I'm going to do it."

Rhule, who said he didn't want to make his hopes for Mayfield "too simple," admitted that one of his primary goals for Mayfield is for him to move the offense.

"I think he's a guy that's accurate," Rhule said. "He's a guy that's smart. He plays fast. He knows where to go with the ball. He's still adjusting to our mechanics and our footwork, so I think making this move now gives him time to settle in with some guys."

Rhule said the expectation is for Mayfield to play at least a quarter of this week's upcoming preseason game against Buffalo, the last of three exhibitions before the matchups start to count.

So Mayfield will have less than three weeks from when he was named the starter – 20 days, to be exact – before he leads the Panthers onto the field against his former team here.

There are two positives there. One is that Mayfield has proven himself to be a quick learner in Carolina's system. The second is that he isn't going to lie to himself about how much the Browns' matchup means to him.

"Obviously, there's a lot of attachment there," Mayfield said. "I'm not going to sit here and be a robot and say that it doesn't mean anything. It will. But right now, all that matters is me continuing to improve until this regular season starts."

View photos of Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield at training camp and in preseason games at Washington, New England and against Buffalo.

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