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Countdown to Training Camp: Quarterbacks


As the Panthers prepare for training camp, we're going to take a position-by-position look at what to expect when they get to Spartanburg. Today we're taking a look at the quarterbacks.

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers have promised to keep taking swings at the quarterback position until they get it right.

And while he might not be the biggest name, the Panthers are hoping Sam Darnold provides an upgrade at the position, and value at the same time.

Darnold has to feel a little relieved to be here now. The former first-round pick couldn't single-handedly save the Jets, putting him in a long line of such players. Now, he's in a place where the expectations are different, and so is the talent around him.

The Panthers are hoping that by insulating Darnold with top-end skill position players and adding to the offensive line in front of him, they can get back to the version of Darnold we saw at Southern Cal.

That guy was worth the No. 3 overall pick, not all that long ago. If that guy arrives, he has a chance to lift the Panthers a level from last year's 5-11 mark. But the key is, they're not asking him to do it all himself. They have expectations, but they're more in line with Darnold fitting in as one of 22 starters, instead of THE GUY (because everything in New York seems to be in all caps).

If he can cut down on the turnovers, and take advantage of a better cast, then the collection of three picks (including next year's second-rounder) they gave the Jets for him will seem fair.

What's new: The Panthers were hoping for solid and stable when they signed Teddy Bridgewater a year ago. He turned out to be a little less than that, at least in part because of the absence of Christian McCaffrey.

But Darnold's a different player than Bridgewater, so they want to use him differently.

Specifically, they want to take advantage of his stronger arm to move the ball downfield. DJ Moore, who was third in the league with 18.1 yards per catch last year, will help in that area. And when they were together in New York, Darnold and Robby Anderson made some big plays at times.

He's got more arm than the last guy, and they intend to use it.

Sam Darnold

What's old: Backup quarterbacks P.J. Walker and Will Grier return.

Walker was the choice to start a game last year when Bridgewater was injured, and he led them to a win against the Lions (technically speaking). The margin of error for any backup quarterback is small, so turnovers can be killers. Walker threw a couple of interceptions that day against Detroit, and three more in a relief stint in the finale, so being a known commodity to the coaching staff doesn't come with a lifetime appointment.

Grier was a third-round pick in 2019, who hasn't had the chance to play beyond being thrown into a grease-fire as a rookie. Having an actual preseason this year will be helpful for both of them, as they haven't gotten many live reps with which to prove anything.

PJ Walker, Will Grier

What we know: The Panthers have every motivation to make Darnold work, including a financial one. Picking up his fifth-year option for 2022 was the plan as soon as they traded for him. Now, they just need to get him to the point so they don't regret the $18.858 million guaranteed next year.

What we don't: If this is the group they're going to take to camp, or stick with.

At a certain point, only having three quarterbacks throwing passes in practice starts to overwork the guys doing the throwing. A fourth one for camp is customary, and something they haven't had all offseason.

There has been some discussion of bringing another quarterback in, but they haven't done so yet.

What to expect: The coaching staff threw everything they could at Darnold during the spring, a crash course designed to show him all the stuff he'd need, and what he needed to work on.

The challenge will be different in camp, with a couple of joint workouts with other teams (the Colts and Ravens) designed to speed things up a bit. Between that and the preseason, there's time to get him comfortable in new surroundings, and hopefully back to being a productive player.

Check out select photos of new quarterback Sam Darnold at the production day shoot.

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