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Ben McAdoo praises "character" of quarterback room 

Sam Darnold, PJ Walker

CHARLOTTE — Panthers offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has worked in New York, so he's seen some things in his career.

But going through three different starting quarterbacks this year — some changes by injury, and some by choice — has made his job this season a complicated one.

McAdoo famously cracked during training camp, when they were in the middle of a competition for the starting job between Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, that "as long as we don't resort to cannibalism, I think we have a chance to get out of this pretty good."

Not only have they not done that, but they've also figured out how they can all succeed and help a team that's been riddled with change from top to bottom this year to the verge of the playoffs. McAdoo said the selfless nature of the quarterback room (Darnold often referred to it as "a healthy competition" during training camp) has been integral to those efforts.

"Number one, I don't pick sides. I don't play favorites," McAdoo said. "So I think that's number one you support who's ever in the game, whoever it is. Whether it's a preseason game, we have a call sheet for each guy, each guy has his own sheet, and you're not going to ask a guy to do something that he may not be comfortable with or doesn't fit his skill set. So you try to manage that part of it. Then you get to the season. You'd like to get as much feedback as you can from the backup because they can kind of help sort of caddy for the starter. When you get in the room, and it's game week, everything you do is about the starter. And you just got to make sure you get everybody in the room working towards helping the starter someway, somehow.

"So they have different jobs, and in different tasks that you ask them to do, just to make them feel a part of it, you know, and these guys have done a great job with it. And you have to have character in the room too."

With Darnold starting now and PJ Walker backing him up (after Walker had a five-game stint as the starter which included the first win over the Bucs), they've each had turns in certain roles. And even before Mayfield was released, the chemistry was never a problem, as he fit in well.

McAdoo said part of the reason they've found some stability is that with each guy filling a particular role, the rest have helped throughout the season to make sure whichever one was starting was supported. Sometimes that's prepping with extra film, sometimes that's talking through plays with other players, and sometimes that's studying opponents.

"When you're a quarterback in the National Football League, you're a CEO of a company," McAdoo said. "I mean, there's a lot going on that these guys have to manage and have to deal with outside of just getting the ball snapped. So you need to coach them; you need to be hard on them. You need to hold them accountable, but you also have to help them."

— Defensive coordinator Al Holcomb knows new cornerback Josh Norman well, of course, but he said Thursday he'd been impressed with the way Norman has approached what is new material for him.

He's had two days of practice after six years apart from Holcomb and interim coach Steve Wilks, and Holcomb said he's picking things up well.

"We just we actually just got out of a meeting; he's asking a lot of questions, picking things up very quickly, from a terminology standpoint," Holcomb said. "So pleased with that. Also, just guys listening to him in the room talking, bringing that leadership presence has been big in the first 24 hours, really, in terms of him being there and understanding what we're trying to get done. . . .

"You know, he's asking questions. He's vocal, he's vocal. And I remember when Josh was a young player, back in the day when he came in, he wasn't very vocal, he was just kind of he was listening in with everyone else, if you can believe that. But now he is vocal. So the veteran presence and the leadership, the younger guys are seeing that which is going to, hopefully, bring that out of them."

— Darnold knows his life has been easier because of the Panthers' run game, and the protection he's getting up front.

So Thursday, all of the offensive linemen came in to find gifts from their quarterback. Each of the linemen got a gas-powered pizza oven, and all the accessories that the big men might want to keep themselves fed.

The best part might have been watching center Bradley Bozeman and right guard Austin Corbett playing Ping Pong with the pizza peels, using the oversized implements to comedic effect.

Punter Johnny Hekker was asked if he ever considered getting a similar gift for long snapper JJ Jansen, and Hekker joked: "I got him employed all year."

— To McAdoo's point about the character in the quarterback room, Walker was recognized Thursday for his professionalism in dealing with the media.

The local chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America presented Walker with the Tom Berry Good Guy Award for his cooperation with reporters throughout the year.

View photos from Wednesday's practice as the Panthers get ready to travel to Tampa Bay this weekend.

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