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Carolina Panthers training camp heats up with Baker Mayfield


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Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield throws a pass during a drill at Training Camp on Tuesday, August 2, 2022 in Spartanburg, SC.

mrodriguez@charlotteobserver.com

Baker Mayfield tends to let it rip.

His arm strength rating in the upcoming “Madden 22” video game is 94 overall, which trails only Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Matthew Stafford. Madden is far from the gospel of evaluating football players, but Mayfield did his best to prove EA Sports right on Day 6 of Panthers training camp.

Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo called an inside run fake during an 11-on-11 session. Split wide left, receiver Robbie Anderson ran a deep post from left to right. As Mayfield dropped back, he stood in a clean pocket, drove off his right foot and delivered a moon-shot toward Anderson. By splitting the corner and high safety, Anderson tracked the ball, fell under it and made the catch while rolling into the end zone.

It was the play of the day and the best throw-and-catch of camp thus far.

Mayfield needed an explosive play as much as Anderson did. The ball hasn’t come No. 3’s way much, but he finally made his splash on Tuesday, proving he’s still a dangerous deep threat capable of beating double coverage.

For a second consecutive practice, Mayfield outplayed Sam Darnold. The two are in an open competition, but Mayfield finally created some separation after Day 6. However, the Panthers are still in an installation phase, and coach Matt Rhule said the team has no timetable for naming a starter.

Through six practices about 70% of McAdoo’s offense has been installed. Rhule said most of the playbook should be in by the week’s end. Mayfield — who did not have a playbook two weeks before training camp after the Cleveland Browns traded him to Carolina — is quickly picking up the system.

“He has done a great job of learning the offense,” Rhule said. “He’s really really smart, doing a great job of recalling, doing a great job of learning as much as you can really imagine a guy (in his situation) doing.”

On Monday, Darnold worked extensively with the ones while Mayfield handled the second team. That flipped on Tuesday. Rhule said Darnold and Mayfield will share first-team reps for the rest of the week.

After practice. Rhule was asked what he’s looking for in a starting quarterback.

“You’re looking at, number one, mastery of the offense. Who understands how to protect themselves and protections, who understands all the run checks, who understands the timing, not just on the blackboard, but when you watch the tape, it jumps out. So it’s mastery of the offense,” Rhule said. “I think it’s playmaking. Who moves the ball? Who makes the play that you have to make?”

Through six practices, Mayfield has made more plays than Darnold.

Who is playing linebacker?

The Panthers entered training camp with questions at linebacker. Then, the team put captain Shaq Thompson on the physically unable to perform list with the expectation he’d likely miss all of camp.

Thompson is taking on a role as coach Shaq, teaching free agent linebackers Damien Wilson and Corey Littleton defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s scheme. Wilson is repping at middle and weak-side linebacker. He was on the field with the first team defense when linebacker Frankie Luvu intercepted Mayfield during a two-minute drill.

“We was running cover two and it was a show two, so we were showing pressure,” Wilson said. “I think the quarterback thought he was coming (on a blitz) off the edge, and he had to get it out quick. He tried to hit the seam route but Frankie he’s the (middle) backer. He was running through the middle and he took it away that same route. He closed on it really nicely, extended, grabbed it and locked it in.”

Wilson and Littleton are taking the bulk of linebacker reps next to Luvu. Before camp started, general manager Scott Fitterer said the team believed in their linebacker room, and felt Thompson’s absence would only give Wilson, Littleton and rookie Brandon Smith more opportunities.

Wilson was arrested on assault charges in Texas back in April and could face a suspension if he is found guilty. The NFL likely will not rule on Wilson until his legal situation is resolved. The case is currently pending.

The linebackers are covering well, but the Panthers’ offense keeps picking up large rushing gains during team sessions. That is a product of the defensive lineman being pushed back, but the linebackers have been out of position at times as well.

Another injury at cornerback

Panthers cornerback Keith Taylor started practice with a red jersey on, meaning he was not allowed to participate in contact drills. After practice, Rhule said Taylor is dealing with a minor hamstring strain. He is expected to be out at least a week or two.

Taylor is battling for the team’s No. 4 cornerback spot behind Jaycee Horn, Donte Jackson and C.J. Henderson. He’d been taking some nickel reps in Horn’s absence, but now is dealing with his own injury.

The Panthers are deep and versatile at corner when healthy. Ideally, the team wants to play Jackson and Henderson on the outside, allowing the long and physical Horn to play in the slot.

With Taylor likely out a few weeks, Myles Hartsfield, Chris Westry, Kalon Barnes, Stantley Thomas-Oliver and Madre Harper will all see increased reps.

“We have a real battle at the corner position right now,” Rhule said. We feel good about the first three, Jaycee, Dante, and CJ. Then there is a ton of talent there. A ton of guys that we want to see. It’s unfortunate for (Taylor), but it gives those other guys a chance to go out and win some jobs.”

This story was originally published August 2, 2022 5:50 PM.

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Hailing from Minnesota, Ellis L. Williams joined the Observer in October 2021 to cover the Carolina Panthers. Prior, he spent two years reporting on the Browns for Cleveland.com/the Plain Dealer. Having escaped cold winters, he’s thrilled to consume football, hoops, music and movies within the Queen City.



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