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Carolina Panthers

For Matt Corral, the work and who he's working with helps

Matt Corral

CHARLOTTE — There may not be a single pass Matt Corral can point to this preseason that best shows the difference.

But he distinctly recalls one from last preseason that he's not making any more, which indicates how far he's come.

The second-year quarterback still winces when he thinks about a slant he threw to Keith Kirkwood last August when he stared at the route long enough to signal his intent to Washington linebacker Milo Eifler.

The line in the stat sheet reads: 2-8-CAR 33 (12:07) (Shotgun) M.Corral pass incomplete short middle to K.Kirkwood (M.Eifler). CAR-K.Kirkwood was injured during the play.

Corral remembers it more succinctly.

"He got rocked," he said, shaking his head at the memory.

Corral obviously cares about the welfare of his former teammate, but he also thinks back on the thought process that led him to make that throw. It was a rudimentary way of reading his progressions. Now, after spending an offseason learning from a couple of coaches who played in the league (head coach Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach Josh McCown) and a veteran mentor in Andy Dalton, Corral has a much better understanding of the why, and not just the what.

"It's just little details like in the league, when you throw a slant route, you're not just going to be quick look left, look right, look at the slant because if you do that, that 'backer is flying and you're going to get your receiver killed," he said. "And in college, you could do that; you could stare at one for a second. That's not happening in the NFL.

"So little things like that, now it's left, right, look at the mike (middle linebacker) for a second and then throw. When you're making the transition from college to NFL, there's things you just don't know."

Corral is showing signs of learning those things, thanks to the help of others like Dalton — "Regardless if you ask or not, he'll just say 'another thing on this,' and he'll just add on," Corral said — but also from the sheer amount of work he's getting. And when he ducks out of the pocket, scrambles, and finds Shi Smith last week for a chunk play against the Giants, it shows some that some of the lessons he's learning are taking hold.

Matt Corral

Last preseason, when he was watching a competition between Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold for the starting job, he didn't get much work. A season-ending foot injury in the second preseason game cut his rookie year short and left him to take mental reps during a season when it was hard to know what to think from day to day.

But coming back to work with this staff, and getting the chance to work period, helps.

The Panthers cut down to three quarterbacks during OTAs to get Corral more reps, and with Dalton not needing many preseason snaps (and a slight back issue keeping him out last week), the playing time has been there. And not coincidentally, the results have been better. A year ago, Corral completed 41.6 percent of his preseason passes. This year, 68.6 percent. His only interception this year came on a last-play, heave-it-up-and-see-what-happens pass against the Jets, but otherwise, he's been more efficient and has moved the ball downfield a few times.

That's given the Panthers something to think about. While the new normal around the league has been for teams to keep just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, a rules change could benefit Corral. Teams effectively get a free third quarterback on game days this year as long as that quarterback is on the active roster (to prevent calamities like what happened to the 49ers in the postseason), so more teams are considering keeping a third.

That third guy still has to earn the spot — keeping an extra passer means going one short somewhere else — but Corral has given them something to think about.

"I mean, every decision, as we say, is kind of multifactorial," Reich said. "But there's a premium on that position. You like to be able to develop guys.

"I think Matt's done a good job and has continued to develop. So feel good about the steps he's taken."

Whether it means a regular-season roster spot remains to be seen. But what Corral knows for sure is he's a different quarterback than the one who walked in the door last spring, a third-round pick from Ole Miss who thought he'd be a first-rounder and then found himself hurt and in a weird spot.

"Looking at it from a perspective of where I was a year ago to where I'm at now, it's night and day," he said. "I mean, from my comfort level to the way I'm calling the plays to the way I'm executing the plays, from top to bottom."

After getting the extra work in May and June, he went home during the break before training camp, and he took some homework with him. He kept each day's play sheet (which they wore in wristbands at first for reference while they learned a new language together).

"I went through those every day, and then just kept going through them because I knew I didn't want to miss a beat," he said. "And it definitely, definitely paid off for sure."

Coupled with the expertise of coaches who have been in the huddle and a guy next to him in Dalton, who he credited with "just cleaning up my eyes," Corral walked into training camp better equipped to compete.

"I will say that the coaches that have played the game, it helps a lot. They understand, they know what we're going through, they know what we feel like," he said. "They know exactly when we make a mistake; they got three things off the top of their head of why we made that. It's not, we didn't just MA (missed assignment) for no reason, like they know they know where we're coming from and know that we just had these 30 plays installed. And there's a lot going through our mind, and our mind's racing.

"So it helps a lot when a coach has been in that position, and they know how to navigate through that because, again, they've been through it."

Matt Corral, Josh McCown

So while he feels better about the surroundings, and the work he's done so far, Corral also knows nothing is given. That's why when asked if there was a particular play he's made this preseason he's proud of, he shrugs.

"When I think about it like that, I'm like, I'm supposed to do that," he said. "I'm supposed to be doing this; I'm supposed to make this play, I'm supposed to because that's my job. That's why I'm here.

"But then again, you get to step back up when you do make a mistake; it's just having that perspective and not killing yourself over it and being able to grow from it instead of just turning a negative thing and you not hurting yourself over it, and turning a negative thing to even a worse thing. You turn the negative to a positive instead of, like in college, I would have troubles with that."

Corral also said the increased playing time has given him a truer perspective of how big the windows for certain routes are, the kind of specific thing it's hard to replicate when you're not actually on the field doing it. So being

"I would say my anticipation for the windows on any breaking routes has gotten a lot better," he said. "Just seeing the full field instead of one person."

That's been helpful for the receivers on the field with him as well, who benefit from the lessons Corral learned the hard way.

View the best photos from the field, pre-game and post-game between the Panthers and Giants in Week 2 of the preseason.

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