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The Day After: PJ Walker to remain at the helm


CHARLOTTE — There was nothing Steve Wilks saw Sunday that made him want to change quarterbacks.

And after watching film of PJ Walker's performance against the Buccaneers, he was still of the same opinion.

Wilks said Monday that based on Walker's play and the still-uncertain medical situations of Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, Walker was expected to start this week against the Falcons.

"It's going to be tough to not put him back in there," Wilks said Monday. "As of right now, I don't see any reason to. I still want to evaluate things through the week, but I thought his performance yesterday was really impressive, just the things he did, from commanding the offense, pushing the ball downfield.

"He and I talked about a few things, we were in great field goal position and took a sack; that's something we can't do. . . . Other than that, I thought he had a great football game."

Walker was a clean 16-of-22 passing for 177 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, leading the surprising upset over Tom Brady and the Bucs. But even though little might have been expected of him, he said he was confident that the players around him believed in him, mentioning guys such as Shaq Thompson and DJ Moore expressing that feeling.

While Walker might not have made the 53-man roster this year if Darnold and Matt Corral hadn't suffered preseason injuries, their faith in him didn't waver.

"Lot of confidence, going into it," Moore said on Monday. "Everybody practiced well throughout the week, so it was all the confidence. Just got to have a strong belief that what we're doing is going to work, and it showed this past game."

Moore said he didn't feel a particular need to pump up Walker (who is now 3-1 as a starter), but that the confidence was organic and that they truly believed Walker would be able to make plays after changing up the extremely conservative play-calling from the week before when Walker didn't get many chances to move the ball downfield.

"You want to give people the confidence that they can go out and be their best self as far as being the quarterback," Moore said. "You always want the quarterback to be confident, no matter what, or whoever's out there, so that was that."

Wilks said that after watching film, Walker's touchdown pass to Moore was a good example of what he was trying to preach to this team.

"When you really look at that play as a whole, the pocket was clean, (D'Onta) Foreman did a great job of picking up the blitz, and PJ did a great job of working outside with his feet and keeping his eyes downfield, and DJ was able to keep his feet in bounds.

"When you look at that, my coaching point was 'one of 11.' So every guy doing their job and executing. It was impressive."

– Wilks said he wouldn't have an immediate injury update ready on running back Chuba Hubbard (ankle) or cornerback CJ Henderson (arm) until he gets a medical report later in the week. He spoke with them both Monday morning and said they were "fine." Hubbard came through the locker room in a walking boot.

Though starting corner Jaycee Horn missed his second straight game this season with a rib injury, Wilks said Horn didn't suffer a setback in his recovery.

"I want those guys to be at their full capacity physically and mentally," Wilks said. "He and I spoke, and he felt like he needed another week, and I was fine with that."

— Wilks continues to show a steady confidence in the players in the locker room, but he made a few points clear on Monday.

He opened his press conference by mentioning being "pleased" with the way they played while noting "three or four opportunities" to turn the ball over that ended with dropped interceptions.

"We need those game-changers to win the football game," he said.

He was also asked if punt return Shi Smith would remain in that job after Smith had a couple of questionable decisions — calling for a fair catch close to the goal line, and picking up a slow-rolling punt late, putting possession in jeopardy.

"I'm OK with Shi," Wilks said. "We've got to do a great job of coaching him up and understanding the situation."

— While the Panthers are still 2-5, they're also aware they're only a game out of first place in the NFC South, with the Buccaneers and Falcons at 3-4.

Is it an ideal position to be in? Of course not. But it beats the alternative, and with Wilks being a part of the coaching staff for the legendary 7-8-1 division-winner in 2014, that's going to get mentioned a lot.

"You know, it's good to know we're right in the middle of the fight, obviously," right tackle Taylor Moton said Monday. "We're doing everything we can to write our own narrative, ultimately.

"But personally, whatever situation we're in, I'm going to be as prepared as I possibly can be and do whatever I can as a leader to help our offensive line be as ready as we can possibly be. I'm a big believer in one game at a time, winning the day, and then taking that next step."

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