Baker Mayfield and the Panthers’ first-team offense had the ball near midfield.
More than two hours into Day 11 of training camp, practice was nearing its end. Coach Matt Rhule called for a two-minute drill. Mayfield had about 35 seconds to score against the first-team defense.
As artificial crowd noise flooded the practice fields at Wofford College, Mayfield began the drive. His first completion went for 8 yards, a sideline speed out to tight end Ian Thomas that stopped the clock. Mayfield took another drop back. This time he connected with fullback Giovanni Ricci up the left sideline for 12 yards. The offense called a timeout.
From just outside the 20, Mayfield dropped back again. An offensive line of (from left to right) Ikem Ekwonu, Brady Christensen, Bradley Bozeman, Austin Corbett and Taylor Moton earned Mayfield enough time for him to wait on receiver DJ Moore, who was running a shallow route from left to right.
Mayfield delivered an on-time ball and Moore took off 15 yards untouched to the end zone.
Practice was supposed to end with that score, but defensive end Brian Burns wasn’t satisfied. He asked Rhule to run it back. Rhule complied and the two first teams went at it again. The result was the same except Mayfield needed seven plays to score instead of three. The drive concluded with a 5-yard Christian McCaffrey touchdown via Mayfield.
Cornerback Donte Jackson smashed his helmet to the ground in frustration of the defense losing consecutive two-minute situations. Mayfield and the offense were all smiles.
“I was really pleased by our offensive execution today, especially in the red zone,” Rhule said. “That first (session) was live. So there was no, ‘I would have had him.’ To end (practice) that was 30ish seconds, one timeout and need a touchdown to win the game. So both quarterbacks got us in the end zone. That was impressive.”
The offense dominated Tuesday’s practice after a forgettable Monday session where neither Mayfield nor Sam Darnold picked up a first down during the same two-minute drills.
But Mayfield set a tone from the start. Practice opened with a live red-zone session. The offense ran eight plays from inside the 4 and scored five times. Mayfield, Darnold and rookie Matt Corral all tossed touchdowns.
Darnold and Mayfield are in an open competition to be the Panthers’ starting quarterback. But over the past three practices, Mayfield has established himself as the team’s best option. He has won three consecutive practices according to our daily quarterback tracker.
The team is responding positively to his brash and confident leadership style.
“Baker is the type of quarterback you want to pick off like 12 times just to shut him up,” cornerback Donte Jackson said with a smile.
After practice Monday, Mayfield said the team is starting to see “more and more” of his true self on and off the field. His command of the playbook improves daily. He has only had three weeks to work with coaches but his functionality mirrors Darnold’s, who had nine weeks of minicamp and OTAs with new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
He already has established natural chemistry with Rashard Higgins and Robbie Anderson. Add Moore and McCaffrey to that list after Tuesday’s “game-winning” scores.
McAdoo thinks the quarterback room is flourishing.
“Up until this point, when you walked in the room, you didn’t know if it was going to be a cold, dark room or what kind of room is going to be,” McAdoo said. “But it’s certainly not. It’s a room where these guys are open, and they have conversations and help each other out. They encourage each other. It has been really good to see. They’ve been pros. That’s what you want.”
Carolina concludes its Wofford portion of camp on Wednesday. Rhule said practice will focus exclusively on third-team players, meaning the first-team players won’t really compete again until Saturday’s first preseason game or when practice resumes Tuesday in New England.
Rhule said some projected starters will play at Washington on Saturday. The team travels to New England for joint practices with the Patriots next week.
The team is not expected to name a starter until after the second preseason game on Aug. 19 at New England. But the QB1 job is Mayfield’s to lose.
Stats (unofficial): 22 for 28, 6 TDs
Practice started with a red-zone session that was incomprehensible to media and fans. The team ran eight plays into the end zone furthest away from spectators while players and coaches stood shoulder to shoulder behind the play, blocking the view.
Had the session been viewable, Mayfield probably would have at least one more touchdown in his unofficial total. But he did not need that session counted to still have a lights-out practice. He commanded every aspect of Tuesday’s session. His connection with Higgins keeps improving. Higgins should be a lock to make the team.
Mayfield keeps progressing as he becomes more comfortable in the Panthers’ offense. During the team’s second red-zone session (this time visible) he went 4-for-4, hitting four different targets for touchdowns.
Best throw: Mayfield delivered a strike to Higgins on a seam ball during an 11-on-11 session. Higgins was in the slot and beat his defender off the line. Mayfield peaked left before popping his eyes back right. The throw hit Higgins in stride for an 18-yard gain.
Notable mistake: Mayfield played mistake-free football during the team’s longest and most intense practice of camp.
Stats (unofficial): 14 for 20, 3 TDs
Darnold had one of his better practices. He threw back-to-back touchdowns to Moore during a red-zone session. During his lone two-minute drill, he scored on two plays from about 30 yards out. The drive ended with a post-shot to receiver Brandon Zylstra.
He did not throw an interception, though he was bailed out early in practice when he threw into tight coverage for tight end Jared Scott. Somehow, Scott completed the catch by wrestling the ball away from a Panthers safety.
But Darnold still is not consistently pushing the ball downfield. He is not throwing outside the numbers unless it’s within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Best throw: Darnold threaded his second touchdown to Moore through the tightest of windows. Moore ran a short spot route and settled between a nickel defender and an outside linebacker. When Darnold threw it, both defenders dove for the ball but were too late.
The ball hit Moore’s chest plate and made a boom sound like it came from a jugs machine. Darnold celebrated with Moore and the offense after the play.
Notable mistake: By not committing a turnover, Darnold did not make a notable mistake on Tuesday.
Who won the day?
Mayfield again won the day. It’s his third consecutive win and sixth in 11 practices.
Total wins this preseason
Baker Mayfield 6
Sam Darnold 3
P.J. Walker/Matt Corral 1
* There was a tie on Day 8