The Carolina Panthers begin what could turn out to be their longest road trip of the season on Tuesday, as they spend more than four days in Massachusetts during an extended practice session with the Patriots of New England.
The two teams will hold joint practices Tuesday and Wednesday in Foxborough, Mass. Then, after a day off Thursday, they will face off in a preseason game on Friday, also in New England.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule sounded Monday that he looked forward to the joint workouts almost more than the actual show.
“I think, for me, joint practices are in some ways better than matches,” Rhule said Monday after a brief practice, “because you have so many different situations. Coach (Bill) Belichick, for us all the other coaches, he’s the master of situational football. So they (the Panthers offense) are going to get hit with a lot of things this week. And they’ll have to adapt and adjust, and they’ll have to react against different defenses. We’ll see a 3-4 base (New England defense) as opposed to our 4-3. That’s incredibly invaluable for our guys.
In the ongoing quarterback battle, Rhule pitched Baker Mayfield against Sam Darnold in the first week of the preseason against Washington (23-21 win for Carolina). But he said Mayfield and Sam Darnold would work with the starting unit in joint training sessions this week and declined to offer further details – Rhule has previously said the QB decision will only be made at least after this week in New England. .
Rhule also did not commit to Mayfield or Darnold playing in the New England game, saying playing time for all positions would be decided later in the week. In some previous instances, the Panthers have dropped some of their key players who have had a lot of work in joint workouts. Rhule said he wanted to make sure Darnold and Mayfield practice the two-minute drill with the starters during joint sessions, which will include live 11-on-11 sessions but no live tackles. Whether there are fights — often a feature of NFL joint practices — is yet to be determined.
In other Panther news:
– Rhule was particularly pleased with special teams play against Washington and singled out several players in particular. He called safety Sam Franklin, Stantley cornerback Thomas-Oliver and fullback Giovanni Ricci “elite special teams players.” This will give them a head start in making the final 53-man roster because, as Rhule said, “We are committed to being great on special teams.”
– Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has experimented with calling games from the stand after being on the sidelines for most of his coaching career. “He’s trying to decide what he wants to do,” Rhule said. “He was up there for Fan Fest and I think he was a little miserable on his own. But I think he liked it in the (Washington) game. I thought he had tremendous control… So I hope he likes it up there.
– Rhule said the Panthers came out “really clean” from the Washington game and he expected the whole team to make the trip to Massachusetts.
–Mayfield said the sloppy snap that cost the Panthers a game in his only practice against Washington was “100% his fault.” Rhule agreed that it was.
“I think it will always be on the quarterback,” the coach said of the awkward snaps. But Rhule also praised Mayfield as a “quick processor” and said Mayfield had quickly acquired a talent for changing plays at the line of scrimmage, which is a key part of McAdoo’s offense.