Is footwork the key to Panthers QB Sam Darnold’s success in 2021?

Dean Jones
(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Sam Darnold
(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Sam Darnold /

Could footwork be the key to quarterback Sam Darnold shining for the Carolina Panthers during his first season with the team in 2021?

We all know that Sam Darnold has a rocket for an arm. Putting it together on the field has been difficult for the quarterback during his first three seasons in the NFL, but there is renewed hope he can start reaching his potential with the Carolina Panthers in 2021.

The team clearly thought a lot of Darnold and gave up three draft picks to the New York Jets in order to get him on board. This ended an exhausting search for an upgrade on Teddy Bridgewater this offseason, which included failed attempts to land Matthew Stafford and Deshaun Watson before settling on the No. 3 overall selection in 2018.

Darnold couldn’t be walking into a better situation.

But it’s absolutely vital he gets off on the right foot.

Speaking of feet, they just might hold the key to Darnold’s success in Carolina.

Doug Farrar of The Touchdown Wire recently named the former USC star as the league’s worst passer from outside the pocket. That might be a little harsh considering the poor production, inept coaching, and general lack of talent around him at MetLife Stadium, but it’s clear things have to get better – and quickly – for Darnold in Carolina.

Sam Darnold should make the most of Sean Ryan’s expertise.

This task will fall on the shoulders of Sean Ryan, the Panthers quarterback coach who has enjoyed a tremendous amount throughout his career working with the likes of Watson and Stafford among others.

Ryan sees a willing student in Darnold, who knows more than anybody what’s at stake next season. A campaign that could shift the pendulum of his career one way or another.

"“When your feet are right, and your lower half is right, there’s a better chance the ball goes in the right spot. So we’ve worked a ton on that. There’s a great combination of seriousness, and really being dedicated to being a good quarterback at this level, and being professional which he definitely is. He loves football; you see that right away.”"

Winning people over is something Darnold’s done plenty of since joining the organization. Matt Rhule and Christian McCaffrey were highly complimentary of the signal-caller’s willingness to impose himself in the huddle, which is always half the battle when arriving somewhere new.

How Darnold performs when the heat is on will be equally as important.

Providing his decision-making, mechanics, and footwork make strides, the player should be able to utilize an abundance of playmakers in the passing game well enough to see the Panthers put more wins in the column.

Offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s scheme is another massive factor to consider. Bridgewater’s limitations were there for all to see in 2020, so the progressive young mind might be able to open things up a little bit with Darnold under center.

And Brady’s been pleased by what he’s seen from Darnold in terms of work this so far.

"“It’s the approach he takes, he’s a pro. He comes out every single day with a mindset of ready to work and asking questions. As soon as he gets off the football field, he goes in and watches it. He’s coachable, and what I love is if he makes a mistake one day, the next day, he doesn’t make it again. So he’s growing from his experiences.”"

This is the biggest training camp of Darnold’s young career. The margin for error is slim, so any complications early in the campaign will see plenty of doubts begin to surface from those who are more than a little skeptical about Carolina’s decision to acquire the player.

Rhule won’t welcome a potential third starting quarterback in as many seasons next year if Darnold doesn’t work out.

The head coach has outlined his full belief in the signal-caller getting the job done and leading the Panthers where they want to go. Even if there hasn’t been much evidence of this during his career to date.

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All Darnold can do is work hard, improve the right areas, and hope everything else falls into place.