How much should Sam Darnold play at Colts in preseason Week 1?

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

How much should the Carolina Panthers play quarterback Sam Darnold during their preseason Week 1 game at the Indianapolis Colts?

The Carolina Panthers are about to get their first real look at what their new quarterback could bring to the table during the 2021 season. Sam Darnold is set to make his debut at the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, which is the team’s first of three preseason games before competitive action gets underway.

Darnold comes into the campaign with a ton of pressure on his shoulders. The Panthers sacrificed three draft picks to acquire the signal-caller from the New York Jets, which also resulted in the organization passing up the chance to select Ohio State gunslinger Justin Fields at No. 8 overall.

This must have been a huge confidence boost for Darnold. Something he never truly experienced at MetLife Stadium.

The former first-round selection has left a notable impression at training camp so far. Darnold has grown in stature with every passing practice, appearing comfortable in the pocket and firmly on the same page with the exceptional talent at his disposal in the passing game.

A solid first step, obviously.

But how Darnold performs in preseason games could swing momentum one way or another before taking on his former team at Bank of America Stadium in Week 1.

Sam Darnold should get plenty of reps over the first two preseason games.

Although Matt Rhule is keen to see both Will Grier and P.J. Walker on the field prominently in warmup games before deciding on who’ll be the primary backup, it would be a huge surprise if Darnold wasn’t heavily involved over the first two contests.

This will not only get Darnold more familiar with Joe Brady’s concepts and the offensive line, but it might also be a good opportunity to improve his confidence in a game-day setting.

There’s just no telling how much this was damaged in New York.

Darnold became something of a running joke on the Jets. And even though the talent around him was abysmal, the buck normally stops with the signal-caller.

If Darnold shows enough over the opening two games, then he can sit against the Pittsburgh Steelers to ensure he’s fit and firing on all cylinders for Carolina’s regular-season opener.

Until then, the USC product should get one half in each game.

Darnold will be scrutinized more than almost every NFL player this offseason. This is the last chance to prove beyond all doubt he was a victim of his environment in New York and his failings had little to do with his physical attributes.

Should things start positively for Darnold and momentum builds, then the coaching staff has the option to take him out a little sooner. The player must treat this as his rookie campaign – he is still just 24 years old after all – so providing the quarterback with as many preseason reps as possible without jeopardizing health is the smart route to go down.

Carolina would get a full football game into Darnold if this scenario comes to fruition. Albeit over a pair of contests and with far less pressure than a normal game.

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The stakes are high for Darnold, there’s no getting away from that. But putting him in for a series or two could bring more complications than it’s worth both for the player and the Panthers.