Will quarterback competition finally light a fire under Sam Darnold?

(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Sam Darnold
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Sam Darnold /

Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold is a man under pressure but refusing to give up his starting spot without a fight. 

From the moment Sam Darnold’s first season with the Carolina Panthers came to a conclusion, speculation mounted about a potential upgrade at the quarterback position. This is something that wasn’t exactly a surprise after such a turbulent campaign, which left the organization with no option other than to explore alternatives for the third-straight offseason since Matt Rhule took charge.

Darnold had some nice moments. But they weren’t nearly as frequent as the Panthers would have liked and considering what’s at stake for the team in 2022, getting better at the most important position on the field was absolutely essential.

Despite trying their hardest in the trade market and drafting Matt Corral at No. 94 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft, Darnold is still taking starting reps during the opening portion of OTAs.

The Ole Miss product is also seeing some work ahead of an expected quarterback competition in training camp, but this is arguably the best-case scenario for a signal-caller who has been lambasted for poor production over his four-year career.

Carolina has been honest with Darnold regarding his prospects moving forward. But in fairness to the player, this has not altered his mindset and he continues to take things one day at a time.

"“Everyone, including myself, everyone knows the situation. But with that being said, it doesn’t change my mindset going into the offseason. I’m just trying to have a great attitude about myself going into every day and just trying to soak up and learn the offense as much as I can.”"

Removing pre-conceived notions is the first building block for Darnold. Eradicating problem areas such as footwork, processing, and decision-making won’t hurt, either.

Sam Darnold has a lot on his plate this offseason

This is a lot to ask of Darnold. Especially considering his failure to improve key flaws with the New York Jets and Carolina so far.

Perhaps the rumors surrounding his future and the arrival of Corral will light a spark under Darnold that hasn’t been there previously. After all, the player has yet to be under any sort of pressure surrounding his job status since entering the NFL.

That has now changed. And there is even the prospect of Carolina looking towards the trade market for another reinforcement with someone like Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo.

It will be interesting to see how Darnold responds to significant adversity. According to Rhule, the USC product has got more of an edge to him now and has clearly been working hard on making the right improvements in pursuit of finally getting his career on track.

"“I think Sam has to have confidence in himself, his ability to work through and grind and develop, and at the same time, identify things he has to improve on. I think we’ve seen a guy that’s showed up, that’s got a little more edge to him, a little more, hey, I’m going to show people what I can do. I think Sam’s very, very focused. What that means, we’ll see every day on the field. You can see that he’s worked.”"

Darnold and Rhule are saying all the right things, which is fine and expected in equal measure. But there is enough evidence to suggest that the Panthers need a better option unless something remarkable occurs during the preparation period.

It’s refreshing to see Darnold taking on this challenge by the scruff of the neck and refusing to give up his starting gig without a fight.

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But at the end of the day, the decision about his future is not in the player’s hands.