Baker Mayfield vs. Sam Darnold: Is Carolina Panthers’ starting QB job Mayfield’s to lose? – Carolina Panthers Blog

SPARTANBURG, SC — Wide receiver Rashard Higgins held his 11-month-old son in the back of a golf cart while discussing the “open” competition between Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold for the Carolina Panthers starting quarterback job.

He joked that young Sevin got his name — with a spelling change — because seven follows six, the consistent number of Mayfield, his teammate and friend at Cleveland for the last four seasons.

In other words, if anyone has reason to draw for Mayfield, it’s Higgins.

But when asked who he thinks will start against the Cleveland Browns in Week 1, the player nicknamed “Hollywood” offered no clarity.

“Whoever makes that decision, it’s going to be a good one, so we’ll see,” he said with a smile.

This is the company line.

Whether it’s Mayfield, acquired in a deal with the Browns last month, or Darnold, acquired in a deal with the New York Jets last year, the Panthers believe the competition between the Nos. 1 and No. 3 of the 2018 draft overall picks will make them better.

Whether you believe the competition is truly “open” or that this is Mayfield’s job forfeit – as many in the league believe – doesn’t matter, particularly to third-year coach Matt Rhule whose future may depend on the result.

He explains almost daily that this isn’t a one-day competition and it will probably take some time to make up his mind.

“I put what I think on record,” said Rhule, who opened the training camp and said performance would decide the outcome. “I just have to take care of the guys and hopefully they feel good about the way we’re doing it.”

They seem to be doing that, and so far neither has done well enough to distance themselves from the other.

“Everything is extremely transparent,” Mayfield said. “They tell us together how they deal with it. It isn’t said to one person and Sam hears other things. It’s right in front of us, clear and concise.”

The competition schedule for the pre-season

You know the routine if you’ve followed the first week of camp. Darnold one day works with the first team while Mayfield works with the second. They turn over the next day. Next, they shared time with the appetizers. It’s about as 50-50 as you can get.

As Rhule explained to his quarterbacks, “We can’t necessarily always be fair, but we have to be fair.”

Fans already have a favorite. Before the first practice session, when Mayfield and Darnold walked to the fields of Wofford College together, the chants were overwhelming in Mayfield’s favor.

They’ve since arrived separately, but Mayfield still gets more and louder chants.

No one seems to be affected at the moment. Everyone is focused on better understanding offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s system and fixing bugs that are causing them to compete for a job rather than own one.

Rhule said he likes what he’s seen, especially from Mayfield after just two weeks on the system.

“We test guys every day,” he said. “His tests come back by the hundreds. He’s a pro.”

The missing link to becoming a contender?

The last time the Panthers had such an audition was in 2003, when longtime backup Jake Delhomme was brought in to face veteran Rodney Peete. Peete started the opener, but Delhomme took over 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 position after winning a Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams last season after they were traded for Matthew Stafford. He also knows Mayfield’s potential, having played his first season and a half as a pro with the quarterback at Cleveland.

Corbett says whoever shows up between Mayfield and Darnold has the potential to make Carolina a contender.

“Your competition will push each other to the next level of performance,” he said.

While not playing favorites, Corbett said the energy Mayfield brings was “truly second to none.”

“A true love of competition that he infuses into everything,” he said. “He beats himself up for small mistakes.”

Darnold, Corbett said, was more relaxed. He rarely seems angry.

“But so far they’ve stuck together, helped each other and gotten along well,” he said. “They both just want this team to be as successful as it can be.”

Success in the red the key to getting started?

Winning is what Rhule wants more than anything after going 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 he didn’t win.

Much of that inconsistency was in the red zone, as only 42% of the Panthers’ red zone games in two seasons under Rhule, who is ranked 31st in the NFL, were passes. Mayfield appeared to create the first breakup of the battle on Monday when he threw Darnold’s three touchdown passes to none within 20.

Mayfield continued to impress Tuesday with his willingness to field shots, something Darnold hasn’t done well as a pro (his 27% completion rate on throws at least 20 yards down is bottom in the league for the past four seasons NFL Mayfield is 18th at 42%). Mayfield’s 50-yard finish to Robbie Anderson drew applause from teammates and fans alike.

That Mayfield led the Browns to an 11-5 record and a playoff win in 2020 also lends him more credibility. Darnold has raced 6-17 for the past two seasons and is 17-32 as a starter overall.

But so far at camp, Rhule has treated both quarterbacks like they’re 0-0, and they help each other out in meetings and on the field.

“Obviously we both want to be the starting quarterback for this team,” Darnold said. “That’s obvious. But at the end of the day, it’s not me or Baker making that decision.

“It makes it easier for us to cheer each other on.” Baker Mayfield vs. Sam Darnold: Is Carolina Panthers’ starting QB job Mayfield’s to lose? – Carolina Panthers Blog

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