Spartanburg, SC – wide receiver Richard Higgins Held tightly in front of his 11-month-old son in the back of a golf cart while discussing their ‘open’ competition Baker Mayfield And the Sam Darnold For the starting quarterback job for the Carolina Panthers.
He joked that young Seven got his name — with a modification of the spelling — because seven follows six, the standard number for Mayfield, and his Cleveland teammate and friend for the past four seasons.
In other words, if anyone had a reason to rush to Mayfield, it was Higgins.
But when asked who he thinks will start the first week against the Cleveland Browns, the nicknamed “Hollywood” player offered no clarification.
Whoever makes that decision, it will be a good decision, so we will see,” he said with a smile.
This is the company line.
Whether it’s Mayfield, which was acquired last month in a deal with the Browns, or Darnold, which was acquired last year in a trade with the New York Jets, the Panthers believe the competition between the #1 and #3 picks in the 2018 draft will make them even better.
Whether you think the competition is really “open” or that this is Mayfield’s job to lose – as many in the league believe – does not matter, especially for third-year coach Matt Ruhl, whose future may depend on the outcome.
Almost daily he says this is not a one day contest and it will probably take time to decide.
“I scored what I think,” said Rule, who opened the training camp, saying performance would determine the outcome. “I just worry about the players, and I hope they feel good about the way we’re doing.”
It seems that, so far, neither has performed well enough to distance themselves from the other.
“It’s all very transparent,” Mayfield said. “They tell us together how to deal with it. It’s not said to one handsome person who hears other things. It’s right in front of us, clear and succinct.”
Pre-season competition plan
You know the routine if you’ve followed the first week of camp. Darnold works with the first team one day while Mayfield works with the second team. The next day, they flop. The next day, they split the time with the starters. It’s about 50-50 as you can get.
As Rhule explained to the quarterbacks, “We can’t always be fair, but we have to be fair.”
Fans already have a favourite. Before the first practice, when Mayfield and Darnold walked together into the fields of Wofford College, the overwhelming cheers were in Mayfield’s favor.
Since then, they’ve arrived separately, but Mayfield still gets more cheers than ever before.
For now, neither side appears concerned. Each is focused on getting a better understanding of the offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo system and fixing the flaws that keep them competing for a job rather than owning one.
Rhule said he liked what he saw, especially from Mayfield after only two weeks in the system.
“We test men every day,” he said. “His exams go back in the hundreds. He’s a professional professional.”
The missing link to becoming a competitor?
The last time the Panthers did this type of test was in 2003, when long back-up Jake Dilum was brought in to compete with veteran Rodney Peet. Pete started the opener, but Delhomme took charge in the second half and led the team to the Super Bowl.
New Panthers Guard Austin Corbett Understands what it means to solidify the quarterback, having won the Super Bowl last season with the Los Angeles Rams after they replaced Matthew Stafford. He also knows Mayfield’s potential, having played for the Cleveland quarterback in his first and a half season as a professional.
Corbett says whoever appears between Mayfield and Darnold has the potential to make Carolina a competitor.
“Their level of competition will push each other to the next level of performance,” he said.
While he wasn’t a favorite, Corbett said the energy that Mayfield brings is “truly unparalleled.”
“A true love of competition goes into everything,” he said. “He beats himself up over simple mistakes.”
Corbett said Darnold is more relaxed. He rarely seems upset.
“But they’ve been pretty much together until now, helping each other and getting along really well,” he said. “They both just want this team to be the most successful.”
The success of the red zone is the key to getting started?
Winning is what Rhule wants more than anything after moving 5-11 and 5-12 in his first two seasons. Inconsistent quarterback play (2020 with Teddy Bridgewater And last season with Darnold and Cam Newton) is a big reason why he didn’t win.
Much of that inconsistency was in the red zone, with only 42% of red zone plays passed for the Panthers in two seasons under Rhule, who ranks 31st in the NFL. Mayfield appeared to create the first chapter in the fight on Monday when he threw three touchdown passes to nothing for Darnold inside the 20.
Mayfield continued to impress Tuesday with his desire to take shots on the field, something Darnold hasn’t done well as a pro (his completion rate is 27% on throws of at least 20 yards in his last NFL position over the past four seasons; Mayfield has ranked 18th by 42%). Mayfield completes 50 yards to Robbie Anderson He received applause from his teammates and fans.
Mayfield led Brown to a record 11-5, and winning the playoff in 2020 gives him even more credibility. Darnold has gone 6-17 in the last two seasons and is 17-32 as a starter overall.
But so far in camp, Rhule has treated her quarterbacks as if they were 0-0, helping each other in meetings and on the field.
“Obviously, we both want to be the starting quarterback for this team,” Darnold said. “That’s obvious. But in the end, it’s not me or Baker who made that decision.
“It kind of makes it easier for us to root for each other.”