Panthers enter final camp week at Wofford. How things are trending

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It’s game week for the Carolina Panthers.

Two weeks through training camp, the Panthers are back in Spartanburg starting Monday for three practices before the Wofford portion of camp concludes.

Bank of America Stadium will host the team’s Fan Fest event Thursday. The Panthers will then travel to Washington for their first preseason game against the Commanders at 1 p.m. Saturday.

It’s been a fast-paced and productive camp for Carolina. The team is in its final installation phase ahead of the trip to Washington, Panthers coach Matt Rhule said.

The team is progressing daily under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. Quarterback Baker Mayfield looks more comfortable with each practice as he and Sam Darnold compete for the starting job. Healthy running lanes are opening for halfbacks Christian McCaffrey, D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard. The trio can thank the team’s retooled offensive line for that.

The defense — which is seeking more turnovers this season — has intercepted Mayfield and Darnold a combined seven times through nine practices. But injuries, specifically in the secondary and across the defensive line, are starting to pile up.

With the usual questions still looming at quarterback, injuries to key players starting to linger and roster moves likely coming, here are three major questions ahead of the Panthers’ third week of training camp.

When will Panthers name a starting QB?

The Panthers are in no rush to name a starting quarterback.

Rhule is still evenly dividing first-team reps between Mayfield and Darnold. That will continue this week and likely through the team’s joint practices next week in New England with the Patriots.

“The Patriots week is like a true litmus test for us. That’ll really show us where guys are,” Rhule said. “So we’ll continue to split the reps. ... We’ll make some evaluations after training camp in Wofford ends on Wednesday, and then probably after the game and the Patriots.

“Quarterback to me, as we’ve said all along — it’s when we know, we know, and we’re not going to rush it.”

Until the Panthers play a few regular-season games, there is no way to know if the team’s open QB competition is a sound team-building strategy or an unnecessary, time-consuming experiment.

From a locker room standpoint, Rhule is sending a clear message that players must earn their jobs. Rhule did not hand the quarterback job over to Mayfield, similarly to how No. 6 overall pick Ikem Ekwonu is still taking second-team left tackle reps.

Perhaps that plays well in the locker room. Assuming Mayfield eventually is named the starter, giving Darnold a fair shot should help keep his spirits high in case Mayfield is ever injured or unavailable.

From a time, rhythm and offensive consistency perspective, however, it’s difficult to justify allocating half of all practice reps to an eventual backup.

Expect this competition to continue until at least the second preseason game, which is in New England on Aug. 19.

Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn, center, practiced twice last week as he still recovers from last year’s foot injury.
Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn, center, practiced twice last week as he still recovers from last year’s foot injury.

Panthers injury news: Jaycee Horn, Terrace Marshall remain out

The Panthers are dealing with more than a half-dozen injuries to players at key positions heading into Week 3 of training camp. Here is a rundown, with an estimated time out designation for each player.

Shaq Thompson: (knee, PUP list)

Carolina’s starting middle linebacker began camp on the physically unable to perform list after having a knee clean-up procedure. He is expected to miss all of training camp, but the team is confident he’ll be ready for Week 1 of the regular season.

In his absence, linebackers Cory Littleton and Damien Wilson are repping with the first team along with strong-side linebacker Frankie Luvu. Rookie Brandon Smith is also garnering some looks.

Thompson — or “coach Shaq,” as players are calling him during camp — is missing extended training camp time for the first time in his career.

Jaycee Horn: (foot, day-to-day)

Horn started training camp on the PUP list, reporting soreness in his surgically repaired right foot after the team’s conditioning test. The team activated him last Monday, clearing him for individual drills.

His presence lasted two practices when an undisclosed setback occurred. By Wednesday, Horn was again idle. It’s not time to panic yet, but it would be ideal for Horn to earn some preseason reps, specifically in Week 3 when most starters play.

“Jaycee will probably be (day-to-day) until early next week,” Rhule said. “They’ve taken some things and said, ‘Hey, give him a couple days.’ We all feel really good about where he is headed.”

Horn missed the final 14 games last year after he broke three bones in his right foot in a Thursday night game at Houston.

CJ Henderson (ankle, one week)

Initially, cornerback was the Panthers’ deepest position — that quickly changed. Henderson rolled his ankle Thursday and sat out both Friday’s and Saturday’s practices.

Rhule said the injury was a minor tweak and that the team is being cautious. Henderson was having an impressive camp, consistently rolling with the first team next to Donte Jackson.

When fully healthy, the Panthers would like to deploy Jackson and Henderson outside while Horn mans the slot. With two of their three starting cornerbacks not practicing, that grouping has not yet taken a team rep together.

Keith Taylor (hamstring, one or two weeks)

Taylor was also having a productive camp before he tweaked his hamstring at last Monday’s practice. The second-year defensive back made the first interception of camp by turning over Mayfield. In Horn’s absence, Taylor was taking first-team reps with Henderson and Jackson.

The team does not expect Taylor back for at least another week as he rehabs the soft tissue injury. Carolina was forced to sign replacement defensive backs such as Duke Dawson and Tae Hayes in response to those recent injuries.

Terrace Marshall (calf, day-to-day)

Marshall was leading all Panthers receivers in reps before he popped up on the injury report with a calf strain. Through the first six days of camp, Marshall was the first receiver in behind D.J. Moore and Robbie Anderson in two-receiver sets.

He’s made several memorable plays, including a 30-yard reception from Darnold and a red-zone touchdown from Mayfield.

“He’s got a lower leg strain right now. So it shouldn’t be too long,” Rhule said.

Marquis Haynes (knee, day-to-day)

Haynes will be day-to-day after suffering a left knee injury during practice on Saturday, per the team. He was helped off the field and later carted away. Haynes went down during an 11-on-11 team drill. Initial concerns were the injury was significant, but that’s not the case.

“Yeah, it happens fast,” defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis said after Saturday’s practice. “We just said a prayer for him.”

The team is expecting Haynes back soon.

Roster moves: Will the Panthers sign a pass rusher?

The Panthers are slow-playing the edge rushing market since Haynes’ injury is not considered serious.

There are some notable names available, including Everson Griffen, Trey Flowers, Carl Nassib, Takk McKinley and Jason Pierre-Paul. But the team is in no rush to add a veteran.

“We like the guys that we have. (Brian) Burns, (Marquis) Haynes, Yetur (Gross-Matos), we liked that group,” Rhule said before camp started. “We’ll keep an eye on other guys if they pop open as they’re available. But it’s not a major need that we feel panicked about.”

The team cut long snapper Thomas Fletcher on Thursday to make room for defensive back Tae Hayes. Carolina drafted Fletcher in the sixth round last year but stashed him on injured reserve with a hip injury. He was expected to challenge 36-year-old J.J. Jansen, but that battle is over.

“I think Fletch is gonna play a long time in this league,” Rhule said. “Felt like it was the right time for him, to enable him to go find another team.”

Jansen only needs to play in 13 games to pass John Kasay for the most in franchise history.