Sam Darnold needed a day of adaptation.
Day one of the Panthers’ three-day minicamp featured an assortment of passers that Darnold doesn’t normally throw at. DJ Moore, Robbie Anderson, Ian Thomas and Christian McCaffrey (along with a dozen other veterans) have all been banned from training for different reasons.
Essentially, coach Matt Rhule’s decision to convert some of his veterans into temporary coaches allowed young players to have first-team opportunities, which meant Darnold was throwing at unknown targets.
Sophomore wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr., newcomer Rashard Higgins and undrafted rookies Andrew Parchment, Derek Wright and Ra’Shaun Henry are earning plenty of snaps with returning Brandon Zylstra and Shi Smith.
Of Darnold’s available targets, Zylstra caught 18 passes, Marshall caught 17 balls and Smith caught six of his 11 targets. New options combined with a new system create some obvious offensive growing pains. Darnold wasn’t as sharp on Day 1, but bounced back Wednesday in the second of three Panthers minicamp practices, which end Thursday.
He completed 10 of 12 passes in competitive seven-on-seven and full-team drills, looking ready and decisive in his decision-making and technique.
“We played well. We fixed a lot of things. It wasn’t very clean,” Darnold said. “It’s just about figuring out what to do, trying to line up the guys. If someone asks you, as a quarterback, I have an obligation to understand their job as well.
Darnold grabs the offense from new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo while fighting outside distractions about Carolina that could potentially bring in a veteran quarterback. The team has been linked to Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo.
He admitted his approach may have been cliched, but said all he could do was focus on getting the new offense under control and ignore whatever was happening outside the building. .
“No matter what they will always do what is best for the team. Whether it’s (general manager) Scott (Fitterer) looking for someone who he thinks can do a better job, that’s not it’s not for me to judge,” Darnold said. “He’s going to do his job to the best of his abilities. I have to hold my end of the bargain. If I’m the starting quarterback on this team, I have to go out and play. good football, not turning the ball over and putting it in the end zone.
It was a shorter practice than originally planned thanks to a 56-yard field goal from Zane Gonzalez, which he buried as the whole team watched, hoping to escape the near-freezer temperatures. 100 degrees at the practice grounds behind Bank of America Stadium.
During the quick 60-minute practice (about 20 minutes less than Tuesday), quarterback Matt Corral saw a slight increase in reps. The rookie completed 5 of 7 passes in seven-on-seven sessions. He split his time more evenly with compatriot PJ Walker.
His short throws are precise. He took more deep shots than any of the other quarterbacks on Wednesday, but didn’t complete any. He once mishandled a low snap, turned his back on defence, grabbed the ball and threw it 40 yards deep, and again slightly knocked down a Keith Kirkwood sprint.
It’s encouraging that Corral has gained more reps, but the team continues to talk about the slow introduction of the Ole Miss product.
“He has a good spirit, a good demeanor when he comes into the building. And I think he understands there’s no timeline for him,” Rhule said on Tuesday. “I think he has that sense of urgency when he works. I respect the way he works. But he has a lot to learn. A lot to learn.
One of the many areas Corral needs to improve is his recoil game. He doesn’t look as comfortable as Darnold or Walker when he takes a snap under the cross and drops to throw or start.
In practice, Darnold put a perfect ball on undrafted free agent Derek Wright following a fake action play to a running back in one set. Darnold threw with pace, releasing the ball as his back foot reached his third step, even with a defender in his face. Wright fell directly under a high pass, kept his feet up, and scored a 30-yard touchdown.
This is where Darnold shows his veteran skills. He also helps Corral adjust to life in the NFL.
“I remember being a rookie and going from a college system to an NFL system. It’s a huge leap,” Darnold said. “There’s a lot of things you have to learn. J I’ve been very open to helping him, so it’s been a fun process, and Matt is a great guy.
Panthers minicamp ends Thursday with one more practice before coaches and players take a break until training camp. Once again the team will travel to Spartanburg, South Carolina in late July and stay at Wofford College for three weeks in preparation for the upcoming season.
Wednesday’s heatwave served as a preview of what lies ahead in a few weeks.
“I had a few guys come out today saying, ‘Welcome to Wofford,'” Rhule said. “Which I think is good, because it’s going to be hot there.”
▪ Free agent defensive end Carlos Dunlap spent Monday and Tuesday visiting the Panthers. After undergoing physical exams on Monday, Dunlap met with trainers on Tuesday and returned to Florida that evening, according to reports. Talks should continue between the two parties but nothing is imminent.
“A defensive lineman in this position is something we are always looking for. We have all kinds of exploratory talks with guys,” Rhule said. “I can’t say anything is imminent. But we know we’re always looking for guys who can obviously win at the line of scrimmage and affect the quarterback.
As a member of the Seahawks last season, Dunlap recorded a team-high 8.5 sacks with one forced fumble and seven pass deflections. He’s scored at least six sacks in 11 of his 12 pro seasons. At 33, he would likely command a team-friendly one-year contract. His 96 career sacks are eighth among active players.
▪ Receiver Robbie Anderson is back with the Panthers but isn’t doing much physically during minicamp. On Tuesday, he worked on the side before escaping into the team bubble with a coach. His practice on Wednesday lasted about 30 minutes before a team official took him back to the locker room.
Retirement tweets aside, Anderson is catching up on learning of the team’s new offense.
“He didn’t come here,” Rhule said. “So he has some work to do in that regard, during training camp.”
However, the team is unconcerned with Anderson and expects him to be a major contributor this season.
“In this offense, Robbie will have a ton of production,” Rhule said. “I think last year was a confluence of a lot of different events. And I think in this attack, the way we do things, I think he’ll have a ton of production.