Following the conclusion of the Panthers’ minicamp, it became clear that Sam Darnold is the starting quarterback — for now.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Panthers coach Matt Rhule did not tiptoe around the scenario of who would lead the offense if a game was scheduled for today.
“Sam has improved a lot,” Rhule said. “Really, he’s really getting better on offense and if we played today, Sam would be our quarterback.”
Rhule’s initial evaluation won’t stop speculation surrounding the Panthers’ quarterback situation heading into 2022, of course. Carolina has been a heavily theorized destination for disgruntled Browns QB Baker Mayfield ever since he requested a trade from Cleveland. Carolina also traded to select QB Matt Corral in the third round of the April draft and returns PJ Walker, who has plenty of experience from his two seasons with the team.
Entering a pivotal third season with a 10-23 overall record as coach, Rhule said he still wants to see improvement from Darnold once the Panthers reconvene for training camp in late July.
“Sam’s job is to take the next five weeks, make sure Wofford shows up better than he is right now,” Rhule said. “Yesterday he told me how good his footwork feels on offense. He’s got to get to training camp and get better and he’s got to do it with the pads on with people trying to bring you down. You look at the quarterback world “. from high school to college now, it’s a lot of 7 on 7 a lot of guys can throw – it’s what you do when guys try to come after you. So, those are his steps. He knows it, I know it. that, Ben (McAdoo) knows, that’s our job as coaches, our job is not to think that we need to go get this, go get that, that’s (general manager) Scott (Fitterer)’s job, our job is to prepare Sam as much as possible.
“At any position, if we can make a significant improvement, we definitely should. But we can also make a lot of improvement if our guys play better this year than they did last year, and I like where it’s going.”
In his first year with Carolina, Darnold opened the 2021 season as the starter and led a strong start for the Panthers with a 3-0 record. However, the fourth-year pro was a catalyst for the team’s eventual downfall, producing just one win in the following six weeks; that stretch also included his halftime bench in Week 7. A shoulder injury forced Darnold onto injured reserve in Week 10, resulting in the signing of Cam Newton. Darnold would not appear again until Week 15 before completing the last two games of a lost season.
Darnold finished his 2021 campaign with 2,527 passing yards, nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 12 games (11 starts) for a team that went 5-12. The Panthers’ offensive line didn’t make life easy for Darnold, who was sacked 35 times and lost six fumbles. The Panthers’ 52 sacks allowed and 190.5 yards per game were on the wrong side of the top and bottom five in their respective categories.
While Darnold may gain confidence after hearing Rhule’s words Thursday, no guarantees were given. The initial assessment is likely to be considered a footnote in the ongoing saga of the Panthers’ QB situation in 2022.