CHARLOTTE – With Carolina's addition of Baker Mayfield, the intrigue around how quarterback reps will be split up at training camp has intensified as the Panthers report to Spartanburg this week.
And in a press conference Monday, head coach Matt Rhule said the Panthers' quarterbacks would be the first to know how the reps will be split up at Wofford.
"I'll talk to those guys first and explain how we plan on doing things," Rhule said. "We'll be direct. We have a really good plan."
The Panthers' quarterback group, which includes Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Matt Corral,and PJ Walker, was put together to encourage competition, Rhule said. But how the starter is determined has everything to do with how they perform in practice.
"At the end of the day, football players are the ultimate competitors," Rhule said. "The great ones love competition. The best of the best create competition sometimes when it isn't there.
"To me, my job is not to pick the starting quarterback. The players will do that with the way that they play. My job is to make sure that we have really good players in the room, which we do, and make sure they have opportunities. It'll be a fun ride. When we know, we know."
Rhule said he "really likes" the Panthers' quarterback room, and made mention of Darnold's incumbent status as the starter, Mayfield's playoff experience with Cleveland, Corral's work ethic as a rookie, and Walker's two career starts (both wins).
"Not many teams have four quality players like that," Rhule said. "It's going to be a lot of great competition, and to be quite honest with you, I think it will be really good for our team, the competition."
Mayfield was added to the fold about three weeks ago. After he got here, Mayfield said he looked forward to the "fresh start" to come after he was traded by Cleveland for a conditional 2024 fifth-round draft pick.
Mayfield led the Browns to a playoff victory after the 2020 season – the franchise's first since 1994 – but found himself hampered by a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury that lowered his production last season. Cleveland traded for his replacement, Deshaun Watson, which positioned Mayfield for the trade to Carolina.
Mayfield comes into training camp a few weeks behind in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system. Mayfield said in his introductory press conference he would be "cramming" in the two weeks before players report for training camp.
Rhule expressed confidence in Mayfield's ability to pick up the playbook in his quick study, both thanks to his experience with learning new offensive coordinators during his time at Cleveland and his previous experience with offensive line coach James Campen.
"There's no doubt, he has to get here, and he has to learn the offense," Rhule said. "He has to go from level one knowing the offense to level four mastery, where you're unconsciously competent. That's part of his journey when he gets here."
Darnold, meanwhile, has the benefit of going through OTAs and minicamp in McAdoo's system, where coaches have said they were impressed by what they saw.
"(Darnold) had an excellent spring," Rhule said. "Talking to him this summer, Sam's had an excellent summer."
Corral has time to develop with Mayfield in the fold, as the Panthers' third-round pick from Ole Miss looks to make the jump from college to the pros in his rookie season. Rhule said he expects Corral to compete in training camp.
The Panthers spent the offseason adding pieces along the offensive line, in the receiving corps, and in the backfield. Training camp is the time to put the pieces together.
"We have to really establish our identity," Rhule said. "A lot of that is personnel. We have to establish who our starters are on the offensive line. Obviously we have to establish the quarterback position, who our starting quarterback is, but we also have to establish the identity.
"We got a great start in OTAs, but we need to know who we are on offense."
— Rhule said that while the roster was largely healthy, veteran linebacker Shaq Thompson could start camp on the physically unable to perform list. Thompson had a "clean-out" procedure on his knee and could miss a couple of weeks, but should be ready for the start of the regular season.
Rhule said that defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon would be ready to go at the start of camp, but they'll try to monitor him as he comes back from last year's knee injury.
Go behind the scenes with Brian Burns and Jeremy Chinn on set for the Panthers new black helmet and all-black uniform combination.