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Carolina Panthers

Rapid Reactions: Hot starts for Amaré Barno, quarterbacks


LANDOVER, Md. — The quarterbacks will get all the attention, but there were a few other notable debuts for the Panthers in the preseason opener on Saturday.

The end result was a 23-21 win over the Commanders (in the first game here at FedEx Field under that brand), with Zane Gonzalez hitting a 45-yard field goal with 24 seconds remaining after an unusual final quarter.

But there were a few bright spots early for the top of the quarterback depth chart, the Panthers forced a pair of turnovers in the first half, and rookie defensive end Amaré Barno had a hand in both in his first game as a pro.

The sixth-round pick from Virginia Tech recovered a fumble early (which was forced by Jeremy Chinn), and his pressure led to a rushed throw by Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke which was picked off by cornerback Duke Dawson.

The Panthers continue to look for depth on the defensive line — with third end Marquis Haynes Sr. inactive after a knee injury scare last week — and the early returns on Barno in training camp have been impressive.

Barno's speed is obvious (he ran a 4.37-second 40 at the combine, fastest of any front seven player this year), but he's also shown some solid all-around instincts.

There's a place for him in the defensive rotation if he can continue to build on this kind of progress, so seeing him show up and make plays Saturday was a solid start.

— Speaking of solid starts, quarterback Baker Mayfield looked good in his first since coming to Carolina.

He led a 13-play field goal drive to open the game, converting three third downs along the way. He also had a chance at a big play, before his deep ball to Robbie Anderson was broken up in the end zone.

That was the extent of Mayfield's work, and Sam Darnold came in after the first turnover and got the Panthers in the end zone with a nice pass to Rashard Higgins for an 8-yard score.

Darnold got a second possession, but it was a quick three-and-out.

It was almost the inverse of early camp practices, when Darnold was the steadier of the two and Mayfield had the highlight throws, but it was a solid outing for both.

PJ Walker came in late in the second quarter and made a few plays of his own, before Matt Corral finished up the game.

All four quarterbacks all led scoring drives, which is what you hope for in the preseason. Corral was a little spotty while behind the final iteration of the offensive line, and with a group of untested receivers. His first completion to Keith Kirkwood was a nice one, but Kirkwood took a hard shot later when Corral led him over the middle.

Corral caught a few breaks with penalty flags late to salvage a spotty first appearance, and moved the Panthers into range for a game-winning field goal, making the best of a difficult situation.

— Higgins is proving himself dependable, which could be an advantage in the competition for the scarce receiver jobs.

He made a nice play on the sidelines in addition to his touchdown grab, and he's had a solid camp so far.

Shi Smith was also on the receiving end of the two Mayfield third-down conversion throws in the first half.

With veteran return man Andre Roberts and special teamer Brandon Zylstra part of the mix as well, the rest of the preseason will present some real competition for what could be two or three jobs.

— The Panthers opened the game with the same offensive line they started camp with — left tackle Brady Christensen, left guard Michael Jordan, center Pat Elflein, right guard Austin Corbett, and right tackle Taylor Moton.

When Darnold came in for the second possession, he was out there with Ikem Ekwonu at left tackle, along with Christensen at left guard, Bradley Bozeman at center, Jordan at right guard and Cameron Erving at right tackle.

Those units have continued to rotate through camp, and the line is far from a finished product. But both groups are better than their 2021 camp counterparts.

— Barno wasn't the only rookie making himself visible.

Fourth-round linebacker Brandon Smith had an early special teams tackle and made a few plays on defense when he was in there. With his size and speed, he could make a significant impact in the kicking game, where they're looking for some coverage players.

— We haven't talked much about veteran safety Juston Burris since the arrival of free agent Xavier Woods, but he delivered a big hit in the second quarter to remind us he's here. He's going to have to play more special teams to hang around, but he's a solid presence, and you can sense his experience when he's out there with the twos and threes.

— The defensive line depth is being tested, as Darryl Johnson left the game with a groin injury and did not return. He was a known commodity on special teams in Buffalo before coming here in a trade, though he only played in three games last year.

See photos of Panthers playing at FedEx Field during Saturday's preseason game against the Commanders.

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