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P.J. Walker takes nothing for granted, takes advantage of chances

P.J. Walker

CHARLOTTE — P.J. Walker has been around football long enough to know he can never feel too comfortable.

But for the moment, as it pertains to his current job with the Panthers, he's at least feeling a little more secure about the way he's doing it.

Walker won the competition for the backup quarterback job — at least for now — but there's nothing about his approach that suggests complacency. After being on and off the Colts roster for parts of three years, and having to play in the XFL to earn a shot with another NFL team, seeing Will Grier waived this week and realizing that he's the only remaining non-Sam Darnold quarterback on the roster doesn't make Walker feel that much better.

"Honestly, it wasn't easy at all," Walker said of the emotions of this week. "Just knowing what's going on and knowing the situation, with this being my fifth year in the league, you're never really comfortable around this time of year. That's the hardest part of the business is going through these last couple of days. It's tough, especially for the players who get released. Trust me; I've been on the other side of it a number of times, so you just try to stick it out and keep fighting. Opportunities are going to come, and they're going to go; you just have to take advantage of them when they come."

Asked if he was comfortable now, Walker was frank.

"I'm never comfortable, to be honest," he said. "This isn't a business to be comfortable in; that's the way I approach it every day. You can never get comfortable because you never know what's going to happen."

That could be a wise approach. When Panthers head coach Matt Rhule talked on Tuesday, the day the Panthers cut from 80 to 53, he emphasized that Walker's role as last-man-standing (other than Darnold) wasn't necessarily permanent.

"I'm not going to talk too much about it, but he would be today," Rhule replied, when asked if Walker would be the backup this year. "If we played today, he'd be the number two."

P.J. Walker

At the moment, that's still the case, as they signed quarterback James Morgan (formerly of the Jets) to the practice squad on Thursday, but haven't made any additions to the 53-man roster.

So that means Walker has to be ready at a moment's notice, just as he was last year when he backed up Teddy Bridgewater. While he got his first NFL start and won a game, his performance last year clearly needed some polish. He threw a couple of interceptions in a win over a Lions team that fired its coach the following week, and then threw three more picks in relief of an injured Bridgewater in the finale.

So all offseason when discussing Walker, they've emphasized that he needs to not turn it over as much if he wants to keep the job he has.

"I think Joe (Brady, the offensive coordinator) and Sean (Ryan, the quarterbacks coach) felt like he's moved the team, knows the offense, makes the checks, makes off-schedule plays, pushes the ball downfield and can be explosive," Rhule said of Walker. "So far this preseason, he's taken care of the football, which was the number one thing he had to work on."

Walker admitted his preseason games were up and down, but he felt generally encouraged by his progress. He threw an accidental touchdown in the opener against the Colts, played poorly with the threes against the Ravens, and was inoffensive in the finale against the Steelers. It was the work he got in all the other days that made him feel more positive.

P.J. Walker, Sam Darnold

"I feel like I played my best football this camp," Walker said. "I thought I put together two football games that were really well played. Couldn't get in a rhythm in the second one, but on the day-to-day basis of training camp I thought I played well, brought great energy, tried to lead the guys the best I can, thought I played pretty good.

"The energy is the same; I approach every day the same. I feel as though when you get an opportunity to play, and you don't start the way you want to start off or play the way you want to play, it can frustrate a guy. but if you just stick to it and keep chopping away and keep stacking days, it will all pay off."

Ryan said that as he's evaluated Walker this offseason, he's seen improvement on some of the mechanical details, which has allowed Walker's athleticism and knack for playmaking to emerge.

"I think his footwork, his footwork in the pocket, there's less movement," Ryan said. "I don't think he moves as much when he doesn't have to. Again, for me, that's a big deal. I'm always going to talk about footwork with quarterbacks, it's one of the things I'm going to focus on and improve, and I think he's done a good job with that.

"In a progression-style passing game, when your feet are on time and you're in rhythm, you can make quick decisions and you're comfortable doing it; versus my feet are moving, I'm not ready to throw when I should be ready to throw, now my timing is off and now I'm doing things with the football that I shouldn't be doing in the moment in my progressions."

Those little things have been enough for Walker to hang onto the backup job he earned last year. But he knows from experience that his job is a day-to-day proposition.

Asked if there was a different pressure being the second of two quarterbacks as opposed to being one of three, he just shook his head.

"Not at all," he said. "Just another day of football for me, just to get an opportunity to come out here and compete and play hard and be around the guys."

In a moment-to-moment business, Walker's learned not to look too far into the future, and to embrace whatever opportunities he gets.

View photos from Thursday's practice as the Panthers put in work before the long weekend.

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