Panthers head to New England for a week of work, while QB situation remains in flux

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The Carolina Panthers begin what may turn out to be their longest road trip of the season Tuesday, as they spend four-plus days in Massachusetts in an extended training session with the New England Patriots.

The two teams will hold joint practices Tuesday and Wednesday in Foxborough, Mass. Then, after a day off Thursday, they will play each other in a preseason game Friday, also at New England.

Panthers coach Matt Rhule sounded Monday like he was looking forward to the joint practices almost more than the actual exhibition.

“I think that, to me, the joint practices are in some ways better than the games,” Rhule said Monday after a brief practice, “because you get so many different situations. Coach (Bill) Belichick, for all of us, other coaches — he’s the master of situational football. So they (the Panthers offense) will get a bunch of things thrown at them this week. And they’ll have to adapt and adjust, and they’ll have to react vs. different defenses. We’ll see a 3-4 base (New England defense) as opposed to our 4-3. It’s unbelievably invaluable to our guys.”

In the continuing quarterback battle, Rhule started Baker Mayfield over Sam Darnold in Week 1 of the preseason vs. Washington (a 23-21 win for Carolina). But he said both Mayfield and Sam Darnold would work with the starting unit during the joint practice sessions this week and declined to offer any more specifics — Rhule has previously said the QB decision wouldn’t be made until at least after this week at New England.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold is forced to scramble out of the pocket against New England in 2021 in a game the Patriots won, 24-6. The two teams will hold two joint practices this week in Massachusetts and then play each other in a preseason game Friday.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold is forced to scramble out of the pocket against New England in 2021 in a game the Patriots won, 24-6. The two teams will hold two joint practices this week in Massachusetts and then play each other in a preseason game Friday.

Rhule also didn’t commit to Mayfield or Darnold playing in the New England game at all, saying that playing time for all positions would be decided later in the week. In some previous instances, the Panthers have sat out some of their key players who have gotten a lot of work in joint practice sessions. Rhule said he wanted to make sure both Darnold and Mayfield practiced the two-minute drill with the starters in the joint sessions, which will include 11-on-11 live sessions but not live tackling. Whether there are any fights — often a hallmark of NFL joint practices — is to be determined.

In other Panther news:

Rhule was particularly pleased with the special-teams play against Washington and singled out several players in particular. He called safety Sam Franklin, cornerback Stantley Thomas-Oliver and fullback Giovanni Ricci “elite special-teams players.” That will give them a leg up making the final 53-man roster because, as Rhule said, “We’re making a commitment to being great on special teams.”

Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has been experimenting with calling games from the booth after being on the sideline for just about his entire coaching career. “He’s trying to decide what he wants to do,” Rhule said. “He was up there for Fan Fest and I think he was kind of miserable all alone. But I think he liked it in the (Washington) game. I thought he was in tremendous control…. So I’m hoping he likes it up there.”

Rhule said the Panthers came out “really clean” injury-wise from the Washington game and he expected the entire squad to make the trip to Massachusetts.

Mayfield said that the botched snap that cost the Panthers a play in his only drive against Washington was “100 percent his fault.” Rhule agreed that was the case.

“I think that’s always going to be on the quarterback,” the coach said of fumbled snaps. But Rhule also praised Mayfield as a “fast processor” and said Mayfield had quickly gotten the knack of changing plays at the line of scrimmage, which is a key component of McAdoo’s offense.