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DJ Moore: QB competition raises the level everywhere

DJ Moore

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Yes, the Panthers have a quarterback competition that's about to begin.

But in a departure from some camps, there are actually more of those at other positions as well.

The early buzzword among players in camp is clearly about "competing," and even the ones not directly involved in the Sam Darnold-Baker Mayfield contest for the starting job can feel it.

"It boosts everybody's competitiveness," veteran wide receiver DJ Moore said. "Every group is going to see the competition at the main spot, so all the competition is going to step up."

Moore has known Mayfield and Darnold since they were going through the pre-draft process, and he said, "they're the same" after going through a pre-camp throwing session with them last week. What's different is the cast around Moore and the rest of the roster, as the Panthers come into camp this year deeper and more talented than in some recent years.

That makes the quarterback position an object of fascination but also a metaphor, and Darnold said it would be good for everybody.

"For me, it's about competing," Darnold said. "At the end of the day, we all want to win as Panthers. We're on the same team. And they're going to do whatever they feel like is best for the team to win ball games this year. If that's bringing in Baker and me competing with him and us competing with each other to battle it out for the starting job, that's the best thing for the team.

"At the end of the day, it's going to be really good for the team and me and Baker as well to be able to compete and have a good training camp going into the season."

It's apparently rubbing off on rookie quarterback Matt Corral, who said that being a part of it now, he's thinking back to his decision to go to Ole Miss.

"I'm going to take it back to where I decided to go to college," Corral said. "I took the easy way because I felt like I could play right away. Knowing what I know now and trusting my instinct, and trusting my work ethic, I would have went to a place that would have made me compete.

"The best of the best, they want competition. And I think for this room, it's going to be a great competition, because we're all competitors, and we all understand what the job is to get done, and we're going to do it."

**QB Baker Mayfield**

Of course, quarterbacks move the needle in the NFL, so that's going to be the thing everyone focuses on, and the thing that will get the most attention. They know that, but Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said he saw signs of that kind of energy throughout the spring, even in things as simple as the Panthers Games competition during OTAs.

"Every guy on this team is competing; now you might not be competing for your job," Rhule said. " Taylor Moton is the starting right tackle. But he's also competing against all the great rushers he's going to face all year long. He has to have a better camp than them. So the spirit of competition was a focus for us through the spring.

"This team, they love to compete. If I say, 'Go run 40s,' they look at me like I'm nuts. If I say, 'Let's see who the fastest guy is,' and they run forever. They're competitively spirited.

"I do think having a competition at the top, at quarterback, the feedback I've gotten from the players is that it will bring out the best in everyone."

That said, the rest of the roster can't be spectators for that one, even if the fans might be. The result of an offseason spent adding depth on the offensive line, quarterbacks (plural), linebackers, and receivers has created an environment where there will be more jobs on the line this year.

For instance, Brady Christensen finished last season playing left tackle, and playing it capably well. But the Panthers spent their first-round pick on left tackle Ikem Ekwonu. They also added guard Austin Corbett and center Bradley Bozeman in free agency, guys who have been on winning teams recently.

Christensen said Tuesday morning that he didn't know where he'd line up when players hit the field for the first time tomorrow morning, but his focus is just being somewhere among the "best five" to come out of camp.

"What am I expecting? I just expect a lot of guys and me to go out and compete," Christensen said. "A lot of good talent on this team, a lot of depth, so I think the competition at each position group is going to be incredible. That's going to raise everyone to a higher level, so that's what I'm expecting."

A year ago, when the line was "under construction" like I-85, there wasn't nearly as much jockeying for positions, and the Panthers ended up claiming guys off waivers who became regular starters (such as guard Michael Jordan). They also started 14 different groups of starting linemen in 17 games, which is why they spent so many resources fixing that group.

Likewise, the Panthers augmented the running backs room, bringing D'Onta Foreman in from Tennessee after he effectively filled in for an injured Derrick Henry last year. He joins 10-game starter Chuba Hubbard in a more talented room behind Christian McCaffrey, and you can tell the guys on the roster recognize what's happening.

"There's always a sense of urgency. That should always remain the same," McCaffrey said. "But to DJ's point, I think there's good energy in our building, and I'm excited about that.

"But it's not our job to look forward or look to the past, but to go out every day, do your job at a high level, be a professional, and do whatever I can to help the team win."

View photos from Wofford as Panthers players arrive for the start of the 2022 training camp.

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