FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The second and final day of New England Patriots–Carolina Panthers joint practices took place on Wednesday, which also coincided with the last day of public access for Patriots training camp.
With not a whole lot of questions around the Patriots’ personnel groupings, especially skill players, we’re focusing primarily on the continued quarterback battle between Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold. Plus, we provide updates on Mac Jones’ development and details about the two fights that occurred on Wednesday.
It’s just about time to end the Baker Mayfield-Sam Darnold quarterback competition
Mayfield should be the starter come Week 1, barring an absolute disaster in Friday’s preseason game against the Patriots. While Darnold wasn’t poor in the individual, 7-on-7, and 11-on-11 periods, he wasn’t great, either. He threw one interception that could have been avoided in the early part of the practice.
There is a noticeable difference between the two quarterbacks, especially when it comes to pushing the ball downfield. Where Mayfield is more comfortable taking aggressive shots, Darnold is more content checking it down and taking the safe route.
That might work if Carolina takes on their offensive identity from 2019 when RB Christian McCaffrey caught 116 balls out the backfield for 1,005 yards, adding to his 1,387 rushing yards. But the Panthers will need more than that — much more than that — if they want to compete and post a winning record, one they (and Panthers HC Matt Rhule) desperately need.
And, so, while the two didn’t appear to separate from each other during these two days of joint practices with the Patriots, Mayfield’s ceiling — and his eagerness to create chunk plays — appears to be higher than Darnold’s.
Following practice, Rhule did not give a definitive timeline on when he would name who the starter would be, nor did he provide any hints as to who the leader in the clubhouse is.
“I’ve said all along that we just want to get to this point where we know what we know. It could be at any point. It could be two weeks from now, it could be now,” said Rhule. “We’re just making sure we’re thorough, make sure you always watch the tape, see where we are. We have a really good plan — we’re not winging it — we have a really good plan.”
Both Mayfield and Darnold spoke following Rhule, and both were complimentary of each other, the competition, and the process.
“The locker room and the organization goes as the QB room goes, runs as the QB room runs, and as long as we’re leading correctly and supporting each other, good things are going to happen,” said Mayfield.
It’s worth noting that on Tuesday, Mayfield ran with the starting unit in all drills, and on Wednesday, it was the same thing, despite Rhule saying after Tuesday’s practice that Darnold might be under center with the starting unit.
That — plus everything else — points to Mayfield being named the starting quarterback of the Panthers. It’s just a matter of when and not if.
Mac Jones has another mixed day at camp, talks about his development
Patriots QB Mac Jones had another mixed day of results at the Patriots training camp practice against the Panthers on Wednesday. He began his day in joint 1-on-1 drills throwing several touchdowns in the red zone. But during 7-on-7 work, he struggled to get the ball into the end zone against the Panthers’ secondary.
The up-and-down day continued in 11-on-11 drills, moving the ball down the field, with a few mishaps sprinkled in. He did, however, throw a nice touchdown pass to DeVante Parker in a spot where only he could catch it. He followed that up with a two-point conversion with a completed pass right at the goal line.
Entering his second year as a starting NFL quarterback, Jones is looking to continue his development while also juggling having to learn under several new offensive coaches, including Matt Patricia and Joe Judge.
“I’m excited to progress here and focus on each day,” Jones said after practice. “Obviously, I played against them [Panthers] last year, and I was a rookie. So, just to talk to some of the guys on the Panthers this week, just see what I’m doing differently and anything I can pick up from them. I try not to look too far ahead — just getting ready for this game, getting ready for practice tomorrow, and making the necessary adjustments.
Beyond that development, there’s also a bigger observation to be made — the Patriots WR group is led by the likes of Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton, Nelson Agholor, and Kristian Wilkerson. And barring a major trade, this is the group the Patriots will go to battle with during the season. Is that something Jones is concerned about?
“We have guys that can make plays all over the field. So, regardless of how we call the play or do it — it doesn’t matter. The guys are open and, if not, just need to be smart and throw it away. But they’ve been open a lot, and those 50/50 balls have been really good for us.”
Jones noted that he’s building chemistry with Parker and continuing to mold that relationship with returning receivers, such as Agholor. Jones did not elaborate on who would actually be calling plays this season, only saying that HC Bill Belichick would make the decision that’s in the best interest of the team.
More fights break out between the Patriots and Panthers
Less than 24 hours after Belichick expressed his hope for productive joint practices and Rhule stated his displeasure about the fights that took place on Tuesday, more fights broke out during practice on Wednesday.
During kickoff drills, Panthers CB Kenny Robinson laid a big hit on Patriots WR Kristian Wilkerson. Wilkerson appeared to be knocked out cold and laid on the ground for several minutes. Patriots special teams coach Cam Achord went after Robinson, along with several Patriots players.
While trainers were tending to Wilkerson, who was later carted off, 11-on-11 drills began on the other side of the field. There, Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey was taken down hard. As he got up, he threw the ball at a Patriots defender, and chaos ensued.
The fight was broken up, but it could have gotten ugly as it was right up against where the fans were sitting on the sideline. Patriots DE Deatrich Wise and Panthers RB Chuba Hubbard were ejected, along with Robinson.
McCaffrey said after practice that Rhule called the team together and said if there were any more fights, they would cancel the joint practice, and the teams would just work against each other.
Patriots WR Matthew Slater was emotional and had pointed words following practice, telling the media that from the moment you learn how to play football, you know there’s a right way to practice, and there’s a right way to play the game. And today, he said, those lines were blurred.