NFL training camp battles 3.0: Kenny Pickett makes ‘drastic jump,’ Baker Mayfield to be named starter soon

As we continue to look at the NFL training camp battles at the QB position, will Baker Mayfield soon be named the Panthers' starter?

The NFL offseason was defined by huge changes to the quarterback landscape as Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield were all traded. In the wake of all of those seismic changes, that leaves some unresolved QB situations across the league. Here’s a look at where several active quarterback battles stand early in training camp.

QB battles in training camp

Atlanta Falcons: Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder

Rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder had an encouraging NFL debut. Was it enough for him to beat out veteran starter Marcus Mariota?

Probably not. At least not right now. Ridder didn’t look out of place, though, in his first NFL game. The third-round draft pick from Cincinnati was poised and his mobility was a positive.

“It wasn’t that much faster than college,” Ridder said. “I was just going out there making my reads and doing what I’m doing every single day out here. I felt like I was comfortable.”

Ridder did have an interception overturned due to a roughing-the-passer call but finished 10 for 22 with 103 yards and two touchdowns, and that included some dropped passes. Additionally, Ridder rushed for a team-high 59 yards on six carries.

Still, Mariota has control of the Falcons’ offense. Mariota, who has a background with Falcons coach Arthur Smith from his time with the Tennessee Titans, is building on a strong start to training camp as the replacement for Matt Ryan.

He’s been mentoring Ridder.

“When something’s not right and I know he’s been in that situation before, I just go and ask him, ‘OK, so coach said this, how do we really want it?'” Ridder said. “He comes back and gives me an answer and just makes things run more smoothly.”

Mariota is emphasizing a positive style of leadership in his bid to be the starter.

“I really believe in constant communication and, at the same time, I think it’s just a little bit of encouragement,” Mariota told reporters. “Sometimes guys get a little down if they’re not getting the ball. I think they understand that it is a competition, but if you put out great routes and you practice hard, that’s all that we’re asking from you.”

Carolina Panthers: Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold

Baker Mayfield will win the starting job in Carolina. It’s just a matter of when — not if — he’ll be named the starter officially. He’s ahead of Sam Darnold, and there are no signs of that changing.

By all accounts, Mayfield has been dominant compared to Darnold. Mayfield started against the Washington Commanders and completed 4 of 7 passes for 45 yards.

“To be honest with you, I haven’t been worried about when the decision is going to be made or any of that, timeline-wise,” Mayfield said. “I just tried to put my head down and handle it one day at a time and that’s been the mindset for both Sam and I.

Just, how can we be playing the best ball at the end of camp and just handle it correctly? I’ve said it before: The locker room and the organization is going to go as the QB room goes. As long as we’re leading correctly good things are going to happen. So, we’re not worried about when that’s going to happen, just trying to get better each day.”

Mayfield has nothing to worry about. He’s going to be QB1.

What’s the timetable on naming a starter?

It’s likely to happen after the second preseason game. But although Mayfield is taking charge of the offense, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Darnold is headed out of town.

Not surprisingly, a league source reiterated that Darnold is not being made available via a potential trade.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett

Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett appears to be making his move in the quarterback competition, but veteran Mitchell Trubisky remains the favorite to start.

Although he’s not going to start the second preseason game, Pickett, a first-round draft pick from Pitt, is going to get an increase in playing time.

“We just simply want to see Kenny in more varsity action,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “This is a big week for [Pickett] in terms of maybe getting in the first half of this game, and, I would imagine, getting the opportunity to see front-line defenders for Jacksonville.”

Signed by the Steelers this spring after one year backing up Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, Trubisky would be Pittsburgh’s starter, per Tomlin, if the season started today.

Trubisky completed 4 of 7 passes for 63 yards with a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks. Mason Rudolph completed 9 of 15 passes for 93 yards and one touchdown.

Pickett was sharp, though. He completed 13 of 15 passes for 95 yards.

“You see him going through his reads better,” running back Najee Harris said. “He’s taking more control. He’s feeling more confident, and that’s really what he needs. He has talent. He just needs the confidence and the team to back him, and the guys to do it. We’re that for him. Him during rookie minicamp, OTAs, and to now, he’s made a drastic jump.”

Seattle Seahawks: Geno Smith and Drew Lock

Drew Lock tested positive for COVID-19, forcing him to miss Friday’s preseason game against the Chicago Bears. Missing the game might not be a bad thing for Lock, who’s trying to catch up with Geno Smith in the quarterback competition in Seattle.

The Seahawks’ offense faltered against the Bears in a 27-11 preseason loss that Lock was initially supposed to start.

“It’s disappointing that he didn’t get a chance to play,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We had a different plan for this night. That’s why I’m still curious to see how he plays with us. Yeah, I am. He’s done enough good things. He’s got some real stuff to him and real exciting ability and play-making stuff that y’all will see when he does get his chance eventually.”

Carroll added that Lock wasn’t feeling good at all.

Meanwhile, Smith struggled. He was incomplete on his first six throws — while also dealing with dropped passes — and sacked twice. Smith also bruised his right knee in the contest. In the end, Smith went 10 for 18, which included three dropped passes, for 112 yards and a 74.3 passer rating.

Lock is out for five days, slated to return by Saturday if he tests negative and is free of symptoms. The Seahawks open the season on Sept. 12 against the Denver Broncos and former Seattle star quarterback Russell Wilson.

When will they name a starter after having Smith take the majority of the first-string snaps in training camp?

“Uh, Denver,” offensive coordinator Shane Waldron told reporters. “Yes, we do have a plan, though.”

What is making Smith the leader? It sounds like his knowledge of the system and protections and comfort level with the coaching staff.

“He’s just doing things right,” Carroll said. “He handles the system, he’s making the checks at the line of scrimmage, he’s able to control the protections. Those guys are hitting it really well. And he’s just really talented.

“He’s made great throws every day. I’m still looking for them to really come in, and really own it, and put days together where they don’t have any negative plays, any plays that they could wish they had back.”

Aaron Wilson is the NFL Insider for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL.

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