Can Sam Darnold turn practice production into game improvements?

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

How can Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold turn some impressive practice performances into production when it matters most in 2022? 

The stakes could not be much higher for Sam Darnold this offseason. A lackluster first campaign under center for the Carolina Panthers in 2021 left the organization with no choice other than to pursue alternative options, which saw Matt Corral come on board as a potential long-term prospect after a concerning slide to No. 94 overall in the draft.

There is a chance that the Panthers further add to their options before training camp. Lines of communication remain open with Cam Newton about a return and the team is also not ruling out another bold trade for someone like Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo before competitive games arrive.

This is all out of Darnold‘s control. What he can do is show a willingness to progress some clear flaws that have blighted his time in the league so far and hope this will be enough to convince the coaching staff he is worth one more go around.

Of course, this would not go down well with fans who quite frankly saw enough from Darnold last season to suggest he is not the answer. Although with an improved offensive line and a coordinator in Ben McAdoo that comes with far more experience, a rejuvenation cannot be ruled out entirely no matter how unlikely it might be.

Sam Darnold has shone during Carolina Panthers OTAs

Darnold has reportedly made an imposing start to Carolina’s offseason program. Wednesday’s practice was the best since his trade from the New York Jets according to head coach Matt Rhule and wide receiver D.J. Moore is also seeing a different side to the USC product this offseason.

"“He’s been more calm, I would say, under duress.”"

One could argue that there isn’t all that much duress coming his way without pads on and in a more relaxed setting than training camp provides. But this is a good start from Darnold and something the No. 3 overall selection in 2018 will be hoping to build on in the coming weeks.

Rhule and Scott Fitterer will be sitting down to reevaluate every position after the team’s mandatory minicamp later this month. If they decide that Darnold hasn’t done enough and Corral needs more time, then expect another move to be made quickly.

It’s also worth remembering that Darnold left a good enough impression last summer, which was enhanced by a strong start en route to three consecutive victories to open the 2021 campaign.

After that, it was a complete disaster. So fans are right to err on the side of caution when it comes to Darnold and anything he displays before the real action begins.

Building additional confidence over the early stages of Carolina’s preparation period was absolutely essential for Darnold. There are sure to be plenty of twists and turns along the way and the signal-caller also has enough bad film to suggest Rhule might not be all that willing to bet his crucial third season on the player.

There are many factors in play, here. But the Panthers did not restructure contracts and make sacrifices for that extra cash to be sitting there doing nothing in 2022.

Converting these strong practice performances into a gameday environment has been a tough task for Darnold. One he could accomplish next season by becoming more composed in the pocket, trusting his footwork, and showing conviction in his decision-making that simply wasn’t there last time around.

Whether he gets the chance to do this or not is another matter entirely.

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