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Takeaways from first week of Panthers training camp

Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — On Sunday, the Panthers rested.

That's a good thing, because when they take the field Monday morning, they will need it.

Training camp will hit the next gear when they put on pads for the first time, which will give us a better chance to understand — or in some cases, a first chance to understand — how the competitions for jobs are going.

They got through four days of unpadded acclimation period largely without incident, though there's also a ceiling on how much you can actually tell at that level of intensity. That's not to say the work done so far at Wofford College doesn't have value, as the instruction is key to the next steps.

But some things are hard to tell until they put on pads and add the physical aspect. Here's a look at what we've learned through the first week, and a look ahead at what's next:

Quarterback competition

Of course, the first thing anyone is going to ask, or want to know, is about the push for the starting quarterback job. There's a reason for that, because it's really important.

If you had to boil it down to a few words, you'd say that Sam Darnold was the more consistent of the two veteran quarterbacks, but Baker Mayfield had the highest highs.

Last Thursday, when Mayfield got his first looks with the starting offense, it appeared to be the best single day of the week for any of them. Mayfield was particularly sharp in red zone work that day, with three touchdowns while getting a chance to work with DJ Moore and the rest of the ones.

On the whole, though, Mayfield looks a little like a guy who has practiced with his new team for four days. He's still learning this system, and Darnold having a four-month head start and all the OTA work makes it natural that he'd look smoother and more comfortable.

It's also hard to develop timing with receivers when you're just meeting them, and when they're the ones deeper on the depth chart. Sometimes young receivers will run routes incorrectly and make a good ball look like a bad one. Only the people who called the play or are running it really know for sure, but Mayfield's still getting his feet underneath him.

Darnold has been mostly efficient, and is starting to work downfield more often. His deep ball to Terrace Marshall Jr. was one of last week's highlights, but the touchdown drive he led in end-of-half two-minute work was keyed by a long pass-interference penalty.

It's reasonable to think Mayfield could eventually win the job, but it's not being handed to him, and Darnold is doing his part to keep it interesting.

Rookie Matt Corral has had moments in camp when he looked good, but is also still in the learning process — of Ben McAdoo's offense in particular but the NFL in general. He has the benefit of time to develop without the burden of expectation for now, but the early signs have been encouraging.

Matt Corral

Looking at linemen

Until there's contact, watching linemen in practice offers little in terms of context.

We can reasonably know that the Panthers have added more talent to the offensive line, but they're still figuring out how the pieces fall into place.

Like quarterbacks, they're making first-rounder Ikem Ekwonu, and others earn a job. Center Bradley Bozeman could be another one of those, as he offers a bigger and more physical presence than Pat Elflein at center. But Elflein is solid enough in the middle (he could be overpowered sometimes at guard since he lacks the size of others) and is the kind of smart-and-tough player coaches like.

We'll better understand what those and some other positions hold once the pads are on, as some guys will separate themselves.

There are interesting things going on down the line as well, as some depth jobs will be up for grabs. Dennis Daley could push veteran swing tackle Cameron Erving, and sorting out spots with guys including Michael Jordan, Deonte Brown, Cade Mays, and others will be interesting.

Bradley Bozeman

Early standouts on defense

Again, if you want to make judgments about guys in unpadded practices, you have to start with guys farther away from the ball. But a few things are becoming clear so far.

Safety Xavier Woods looks like a guy who has been here longer than he has, as he's impressing coaches with his grasp of the concepts and playbook already, and is communicating well throughout the secondary. He's also athletic enough to be a good complement to Jeremy Chinn, upgrading the middle of the defense.

Cornerback CJ Henderson has also been good on the field during the first week. He takes a lot of his reps opposite Moore, so it's not an easy job, but he's holding his own.

The talent was always there with the former top-10 pick, but he's talking with teammates on the field more, and just looks more settled. With Jaycee Horn missing some time with minor soreness, Henderson has worked extensively as an outside corner with the starters and has stood out. The secondary needs to be a strength this year while they sort out the front seven, but they have the potential to be.

Xavier Woods

Wide receiver watch

They have known commodities in Moore and Robbie Anderson, but after that, there's a considerable amount of jockeying for jobs.

C.J. Saunders doesn't flash in terms of physical gifts, but he's always in the right place, knows how to get open in the slot (where he's been working with the first offense), and catches everything. Marshall is growing more consistent. Shi Smith has created some highlights but lacks experience and could be more polished in terms of route-running. Rashard Higgins has been good as well.

They have a couple of veterans in Brandon Zylstra and Andre Roberts, who are key special teamers as well, so that's a deeper group this year.

If the Panthers keep three quarterbacks (as seems likely), there will be some difficult decisions to make elsewhere on the roster, and wide receiver might be a spot they choose to go shorter than usual.

View photos of Carolina's quarterbacks, including Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Matt Corral and P.J. Walker, through the first week of training camp.

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