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Carolina Panthers

The Day After: Darnold "orchestrating" the offense


CHARLOTTE – Steve Wilks hadn't been announcing a starting quarterback before Monday at the earliest, but Sam Darnold's job was locked in for Week 14 in Seattle immediately after beating the Broncos Sunday.

Wilks said there were times this year that he knew the Panthers would stick with PJ Walker well before he announced it in a Monday press conference or later, but the way Darnold performed Sunday was enough for the interim coach to keep rolling with him into the bye.

"When you just talk about Sam himself and his performance yesterday, I thought he did a great job really orchestrating and running the offense," Wilks said. "Good things for us, getting outside the pocket, utilizing his feet, and still having his eyes down the field to try to convert."

Darnold started for the first time this season in Week 12, after losing the starting job to Baker Mayfield in the preseason, then suffering a high ankle sprain during the third preseason game and landing on injured reserve.

With Walker out with a high ankle sprain and Mayfield underperforming, Darnold returned and showed Wilks what he needed to see.

Darnold completed 11-of-19 passes for 164 yards with two touchdowns – one passing and one rushing – and no interceptions or sacks. He also got DJ Moore involved again, as the wide receiver tallied 103 yards on four catches in his first game with at least 30 yards since Oct. 30 against Atlanta.

He didn't do anything particularly flashy, but Darnold executed, and avoided making costly mistakes.

"I thought he did a good job at communicating with the protections and making sure that we're in the right looks at times," Wilks said. "Just overall orchestrating the offense."

– Wilks said the situation around who would be Darnold's backup against the Seahawks is a bit more fluid heading into the bye.

Wilks said the Panthers would evaluate Walker's health before deciding whether Mayfield or Walker would be the second-string quarterback behind Darnold in Seattle on Dec. 11.

"(We are) waiting to see exactly where we are from a standpoint of PJ being healthy," Wilks said. "And then we'll evaluate that situation as it occurs."

– The Panthers are parting ways with two more assistant coaches.

Assistant defensive line coach Terrance Knighton and assistant strength coach Corey Campbell will join former coach Matt Rhule in Nebraska.

With Wilks' decision to cut ties with former defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni earlier in the season, pass rush specialist Don Johnson is left as the primary leader of that group.

Wilks said he is still determining if he'll fill the vacancies, but he will have time over the bye to evaluate.

"Right now, I have no idea as far as bringing anybody in," Wilks said. "I'm still contemplating and thinking about it. I think, from a staff standpoint, we can manage it. But if I feel the need to do that, I will."

– Wilks said the Panthers would move forward with Shi Smith as the primary punt returner, despite Raheem Blackshear taking all but one of the punts against Denver. 

Wilks said Smith only returned one punt against the Broncos because he spent most of the week leading up to the game out of practice with an illness. Smith was also out when Carolina brought in a left-footed punter to prepare for Denver's Corliss Waitman. 

"I didn't want to put him in that situation," Wilks said. "I feel like if you don't have the opportunity to get those looks, particular reps … just all those things go into the fact. But he'll be back in the mix."

– Wilks said players would have the rest of this week off following Monday's meetings for the bye week. 

He said the decision to grant off days was due to the Panthers' bye coming late in the year, so the extra time to rest, heal, and recharge is needed. 

"I just told those guys (to) get away, enjoy yourselves, enjoy your time with your family and friends, be smart, don't be that guy," Wilks said. "Understand the situation that we have in front of us, which I still feel like we have an opportunity to do what we want to do within this division. So I want them to decompress, get away, enjoy themselves, but also come back focused and ready to work."

View photos from the field and in the locker room after Carolina's win over Denver on Sunday.

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