By STEVE REED – AP Sportswriter
CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) — Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule isn’t expecting miracles from Sam Darnold this season.
He just wants the fifth-year quarterback to avoid “catastrophic” mistakes, which plagued him at times last season and in his first three seasons with the New York Jets.
“It’s the National Football League and you’re going to have steals, but we don’t want three or four steal games,” Rhule said after Wednesday’s OTA practice. It won’t happen because we are negligent with football.
Darnold, 25, played two games last season with three turnovers and another four with two turnovers. He finished the season with 17 turnovers — 13 of those on interceptions — against 14 combined touchdowns while going 4-7 as a starter. The Panthers finished 5-12 last season.
Rhule said he wants Darnold to grow into a “confident quarterback”.
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The No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft is learning a different system under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and so far Rhule is liking what he’s seen from his slated starting quarterback.
He said Darnold was “exceptional” on Wednesday, calling it his best practice since acquiring the Jets last season for three draft picks.
Darnold quickly learns where to go with football, Rhule said.
“Ben put in a lot of plays and Sam works at a high level to make sure he knows what to do when things are going well and things are going down,” Rhule said.
Rhule added: “We see him getting better.”
Panthers selected Matt Corral in the third round of the draft, but consider him a prospect that needs to be developed and learn the professional game after playing in an extended offense at Mississippi.
PJ Walker is also on the roster, but the Panthers still haven’t completely ruled out bringing in a more experienced veteran quarterback at some point.
Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield and San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo are two quarterbacks considered to be in the trade market, but the Panthers are unlikely to make a move for either unless the Browns or 49ers don’t. agree to assume a large part of their contracts.
Both QBs are in the final years of their contracts. Mayfield has a base salary of $18.9 million in 2022, while Garoppolo’s is $24.2 million, according to Sportrac.com.
Also, Cam Newton remains an unrestricted free agent and the team said they weren’t ruling out bringing him back.
“In terms of the time it takes, I think most guys if they come (at the start of) training camp, by the end of training camp, they’ll have things under control and in control,” said Rhule said. “It’s five or six weeks to prepare. Most guys can learn our offense or defense at this point.
Rhule said he’s in coaching mode at the moment, but plans to sit down with general manager Scott Fitterer after next week’s mandatory minicamp to discuss potential roster improvements.
Regardless of who ends up under center, the Panthers feel like they’ve increased their chances of success on offense by added left tackle Ickey Ekwonu with the sixth overall pick and interior linemen Austin Corbett of the defending Super Bowl champion Rams and Bradley Bozeman of the Ravens in free agency. Rhule also said he liked the way young offensive linemen Brady Christensen and Michael Jordan were progressing.
Carolina allowed 52 sacks last season, fifth in the NFL.
“If you can get six or seven quarterback hits a game, the quarterback will play a lot better,” Rhule said.
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