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Carolina Panthers

The Day After: Steve Wilks on decision to stick with PJ Walker


CHARLOTTE – Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks stood by his decision to start PJ Walker at quarterback for Thursday night's game against Atlanta, based on his last meeting with the Falcons.

When asked what he'd say to people who questioned his choice to trot out Walker, who had two positive showings in Weeks 7 and 8 against Tampa Bay and Atlanta but struggled mightily Sunday in Cincinnati, Wilks gave a firm answer.

"I would say probably trust the process and trust my decision-making," he said. "We all have bad games. PJ wasn't the only one. … I could bench everybody if we go off bad games, so we're going to rally behind PJ and definitely give him the things that he needs from a game plan standpoint."

Walker was benched for the second half of the Panthers' 42-21 loss to the Bengals after getting off to a disastrous start, going 3-of-10 passing for 9 yards with two interceptions. Carolina's lone first down in the first half was off a Cincinnati penalty, and the Panthers went into the locker room at the midpoint down 35-0.

Baker Mayfield, who has backed up Walker for the past two weeks since returning from an ankle injury, came in for the last two quarters against the Bengals and completed 14-of-20 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns.

Mayfield hadn't seen the field since Week 5 for a reason past his injury, as Walker had shown his ability under center in the two games before Cincinnati. He had 177 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-22 passing in an efficient win over Tampa Bay, and he totaled 317 yards on 19-of-36 passing in an overtime loss at Atlanta, which included a stellar 62-yard touchdown pass to DJ Moore late in the fourth quarter.

Wilks liked the consistency from Walker, who will start his fifth straight game Thursday, and said the short turnaround also helped make the decision.

"I just felt like in the short week, just giving him the opportunity to go back with the game plan, what we're going to put together, what he did against Atlanta before," Wilks said. "Hopefully, we can get a spark out of the offense."

Wilks said Mayfield would back up Walker once again. Sam Darnold, who was activated off injured reserve Monday after recovering from a preseason high ankle sprain, could be available for his first game of the regular season now that he's back on the 53-man roster. Still, Wilks said he wasn't sure whether Darnold would dress out Thursday.

"I don't know about the dressing part because we have other positions that we've got to make sure we're efficient in, from a standpoint of depth," Wilks said. "Right now, Baker is the backup, so I know Baker is dressing."

Darnold, who navigated the preseason competition for the starting job with Mayfield with grace, made at least a half-dozen references to taking things "one day at a time," and and Wilks' direct approach takes away a lot of the possibility for awkwardness in the quarterbacks room.

"I think coach Wilks does a really good job of making sure we're on the same page going into the week," Darnold said. "With him being able to meet with us before the week gets going, or before we even have a chance to talk about it. He's telling us the situation, and we're all three of us set, so he's been doing a good job of communicating with us. . . .

"When coach Wilks talks to us, it is what it is, and we move on from there."

– Wilks said his decision to part ways with cornerbacks coach and director of player evaluation Evan Cooper and defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni "wasn't a knee-jerk reaction" from the recent loss to Cincinnati.

Instead, Wilks said he had been evaluating "everyone" from players to coaches, and Monday morning felt like the right time for the move.

"It's just something I felt like we needed to change, and that's what I did," Wilks said. "I wish both of those individuals nothing but the best. …

"It's not so much those particular two spots – I've been evaluating everyone, coaches (and) players. I just felt like those positions needed a change."

– While safety Jeremy Chinn has "progressed a lot in the last couple of weeks" from a hamstring injury suffered in Week 4, he remains on injured reserve, and Wilks didn't appear certain that Chinn would play against Atlanta this week.

"I hope so," Wilks said when asked if Chinn could be ready to go Thursday. "My thing is, with a short week, not really having a full load of practice, and him not being able to put pads on, I'm going to be very cautious, making sure I make the right decision."

Chinn hasn't been officially designated to return to practice, so he hasn't participated since landing on IR.

— The Panthers turned over a significant chunk of the practice squad Monday, bringing in three new players.

The Panthers signed wide receiver Emeka Emezie, cornerback Gavin Heslop, and linebacker Kobe Jones.

To make room for them on the practice squad, they released defensive end Delontae Scott, quarterback Jacob Eason and safety Marquise Blair.

The Panthers had used all three of Blair's allowed elevations from the practice squad, and with Darnold active, the Panthers no longer needed a fourth quarterback.

Emezie is a local product, starring at Marvin Ridge High before his career at NC State.

Check out the best photos from Monday's walkthrough practice as the Panthers prepare to take on the Falcons on Thursday night.

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