LANDOVER, Md. (WNCT) — On Saturday afternoon at 1, the Panthers will start preseason play at FedEx field against the Washington Commanders.
With the preseason camp coming to a close, a lot of changes have been made to the team. It is typical with the first preseason game of the season for there to be plenty of unknowns, and even though we still won’t know everything after this game, it’ll be a start.
Here’s a look at five things to watch for Saturday afternoon:
On Friday, head coach Matt Rhule said he had not announced which quarterback will start. Saturday morning, Panthers.com reported Baker Mayfield will get the start. Rhule has stated that the goal is to get Mayfield and Sam Darnold eight to ten snaps each.
Mayfield has been progressing in practices as he has tried to outwork Darnold for the starting position. Mayfield isn’t afraid to take chances in the position, as Darnold is a little more careful. Who has the upper hand in this situation? Will the preseason separate these two?
The game will show results and make decisions.
After much buzz surrounding the Panthers’ decision with star running back Christian McCaffrey for this season, what have they decided to do?
They are not planning on changing their game plan, even though McCaffrey has missed 23 of the last 33 regular-season games due to injuries.
Rhule said it’s too early to know how many touches he anticipates McCaffrey getting this season, but he has made it obvious he has big expectations. He also added that he wants to help him become “the best running back in the National Football League.”
McCaffrey should benefit from a significantly upgraded offensive line as well. His teammates say they just want him on the field, as it’s a different team when he’s out there.
The biggest difference in the Panthers’ on-field product this year is the quality of the offensive linemen they brought to camp. Two free agents were signed and two rookies were drafted, and it appears all four will make the roster.
Keeping in mind that teams generally keep nine offensive linemen, that’s a pretty significant turnover and is definitely something they needed after starting 14 different lineups in 17 games last year.
It’s first-round pick Ikem Ekwonu’s first professional game, and it’s our first chance to check out his progress as he works towards the starting spot of left tackle, as well as other newcomers that are getting their shot at a professional game.
Panthers fans didn’t get to see as much out of the rookie as they’d hoped after he went down in Week 3 after suffering multiple broken bones in his foot that put him out for the remainder of the season. Although he got very little playing time, Horn made his presence known, allowing just two catches for a grand total of 18 yards on 69 coverage snaps.
After having a lot of back and forth during camp, from being on the sideline watching to slowly practicing again, Horn said he is ready for week one.
Horn is scheduled to start alongside Donte Jackson in year two. When the Panthers go to three cornerback sets, Rhule said Horn will move inside while C.J. Henderson, another former top-10 NFL draft pick, will take the outside.
When all three cornerbacks are healthy and with Jeremy Chinn and Xavier Woods at safety, the Panthers believe they will have one of the best defensive backfields in the league. Part of this could be because Carolina gave up the second-fewest passing yards in the league in 2021.
Head coach Matt Rhule has managed to run a professional camp this summer. There is the debate surrounding making the players run the gassers and how this benefits them, as some consider this a “college style practice,” but the introduction of experienced coaches is seeming to give the Panthers hope that they are headed in the right direction.
There is a huge amount of pressure on Rhule to get things right in the 2022-23 season. Only gaining 10 wins over his first two seasons isn’t the greatest indication of things progressing as anticipated.
After losing some weight and looking refreshed, Rhule also looks like a man confident in his team. This is a far cry from last summer and something that came across once their bright start completely evaporated after McCaffrey began suffering further injury problems.
With this likely being a make-or-break season for Rhule, will we see something that gives us confidence in the team? Did we learn enough from camp to give us hope for a better season?