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Sam Darnold working, and showing more "edge"

Sam Darnold

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers haven't promised Sam Darnold anything really, but especially anything beyond the immediate.

So as the veteran quarterback embarked on an offseason of uncertainty, he decided to lean into it, and embrace a moment-to-moment existence, one which is not exactly out of line with his personality.

So as long as he's the starting quarterback for the Panthers, and for the moment, that's what they've said he is, he's spending all his energy trying to maximize it.

"Everyone, including myself, everyone knows the situation," Darnold said Tuesday, after the second of the team's OTA practices. "But with that being said, it doesn't change my mindset going into the offseason. I'm just trying to have a great attitude about myself going into every day and just trying to soak up and learn the offense as much as I can."

There's a lot coming at him, all at once. Even on the surface level, Darnold's learning yet another new offense (which has become the norm for him). New offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is throwing everything at all the quarterbacks, and Panthers head coach Matt Rhule admitted that in this system, "the quarterback has a lot on his plate."

So even if that was all Darnold had to deal with, it would be a lot.

But that's not all.

The Panthers have openly been looking for quarterbacks for three years now, a process Darnold was part of last April. Since then, they've been linked to a number of quarterbacks, from the high-profile Deshaun Watson deal, to daily reports about existing veterans under contract to other teams.

Oh, and they also traded a future third-round pick so they could draft Matt Corral, a guy Darnold has been helping by teaching him about cadences, and things the rookie never had to worry about at Ole Miss.

Through it all, Darnold has maintained his even keel, showing up early for work every day the same way he always has. He knew this was going to be the case from his exit interview in January, when general manager Scott Fitterer told him they'd be active in the quarterback market.

"He said just that they were going to see what different opportunities might come up," Darnold said. "He wasn't saying one thing or another. He didn't even bring up Deshaun specifically. For me, it's just focusing on what I can control and worrying about getting after it ever single offseason, making sure I'm healthy going into OTAs and staying healthy through OTAs and getting to training camp and having a good grasp of the system, and going about it that way."

Asked how he blocked out all the external noise, Darnold laughed.

"You just answered your own question," he said. "You've just got to stay focused; you've got to block everything out. There's different ways to go about it, I don't pay attention much to any of that stuff, but you hear rumors and different things. I have a great family, a great friend group I lean on, great teammates, great coaches.

"And we're really just focused on learning the system right now, and it's fun being in that locker room right now. Just enjoying every single day and being able to go out there and practice again in OTAs, and just continue to stay focused on the goal."

For what it's worth, and none of it comes with a guarantee, they've been impressed with the work so far.

"I think what Sam's been through this offseason is hard," Rhule said. "Your back's against the wall, everyone's kind of questioning can you do this or not. You can have confidence in yourself and still say, 'Hey, I need to work on these things.' A lot of people get that confused. I think Sam has to have confidence in himself, his ability to work through and grind and develop, and at the same time, identify things he has to improve on. I think we've seen a guy that's showed up, that's got a little more edge to him, a little more, hey, I'm going to show people what I can do.

"I think Sam's very, very focused. What that means, we'll see every day on the field. You can see that he's worked."

That's all Darnold can control at the moment. So that's what he's going to worry about. So if a room full of reporters wants to ask if he thinks this is a make-or-break year for him (and they did), it's just another drill to run.

"I mean, I think whatever narrative you guys want to drive, it's not up to me, to be honest, Darnold said. "I can think about it like that, I might not think about it like that, who knows? But for me, it's going out there and just playing every play like it's my last. And it's understanding, what's my job on this play?

"There's enough to have to think about as a quarterback every single play, and if you start to add into the mix, oh this is a contract year, or what are they going to do, what am I going to do after this if I don't play well, . . . playing quarterback is hard enough."

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