CHARLOTTE – Sam Darnold didn't spend his practice time standing around idly while he was on injured reserve.
Slated to back up Baker Mayfield after a preseason quarterback competition, Darnold watched his role change when he suffered a high ankle sprain in the third preseason game against Buffalo.
So Darnold spent time fine-tuning his play and keeping an eye on the offense while he recovered, but he also took the extra time to learn from his teammates on the defense. Set to start for the first time this season in Week 12 against the Broncos, Darnold is hoping to apply lessons from his defensive counterparts.
"I've had some time to be able to sit back and evaluate some things, so it's been good to be able to do that," Darnold said. "I've learned a ton about what defenses are doing (while) talking with the defensive guys a little bit; what they're looking for getting ready to play an offense."
Sidelined for the season's first nine weeks before rejoining the 53-man roster ahead of a Week 10 with Atlanta, Darnold often asked questions on the practice field. He said he checked in with linebacker Shaq Thompson and the Panthers' defensive backs to learn more about their perspective.
"It was just conversations that ended up popping up," Darnold said. "It wasn't me trying to gain an edge or anything like that. It was just talking with the guys, and then all of a sudden, those conversations popped up. Football is fun, man; football is a fun game. So whenever you get a chance to talk about ball with the fellas, it's always fun to learn."
Darnold said his practice routine switched up while he was on IR. At times when he'd typically be focused on the offense and preparing to execute the game plan, he got to pick his defensive teammates' brains.
Darnold dug into why defenses set formations in certain ways based on the offense's motion, how the defense interprets what it sees from an opposing offense, and how defensive backs follow receivers' routes.
"(The offense) might see one thing on tape, but it's actually (that) they're looking at something completely different than what we think they're looking at," Darnold said. "And then some of the DBs, it's always fun to talk to DBs in terms of route concepts, different coverages that they're playing, and what they're looking at."
Interim coach Steve Wilks, who has a defensive coaching background, said he has seen Darnold grow more "in tune" as he studied the defense.
"(He's) really trying to learn different things from a defensive perspective – what the defense is giving him based off the look," Wilks said. "With that position, you've got to see things pre-snap, and then all of a sudden, they rotate on the snap. It's just being able to process things quickly, and I think that's where he's taken his game to another level."
While it's never ideal to be out for a significant chunk of the season, Darnold said he found a way to make his time on the sidelines worthwhile.
"It's been a really good opportunity for me to learn that way," Darnold said. "Obviously, I want to be able to play, but it's been a good opportunity to learn, for sure."
Yetur Gross-Matos, Brian Burns and Marquis Haynes were joined by Nicole Tepper as they handed out turkeys for Thanksgiving meals on Tuesday.