The Carolina Panthers are facing three primary issues right now and coach Matt Rhule addressed all of them Friday after the team’s first rookie minicamp practice.
Issue 1: Is Rhule on the hot seat already?
That answer has to account for a report from Front Office Sports that the team is “eyeing” former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and is willing to wait him out while he spends a year as a TV analyst.
Rhule dismissed that report on Friday.
“With regards to that report, first I heard of it Dave called me and told me it was going to come out,” Rhule said, referring to Panthers owner Dave Tepper. “They had called him and there was nothing to it. You know, I know Dave Tepper well enough to believe he wouldn’t be talking to another coach right now.
“He came to my house two-and-half years ago, he told me this was a five-year rebuild. That’s what he said to me. He convinced me then to come be a part of it with him and build it with him. We’re not where we want to be and I don’t think it’s going to take five years. I don’t want it to take five years but those are the words he said to me.”
Rhule added he likes the current team and is “looking forward to taking a step this year,” which is a good idea because the Panthers have a 10-23 record under Rhule.
Issue 2: Who is going to start at quarterback for the Panthers this season?
Sam Darnold is the presumptive starter but the club selected former Mississippi star Matt Corral in the third round of the NFL draft and there will be a competition for the starting job.
Rhule confirmed Darnold is the starter but he also talked about how Corral is off to a very good start.
“When we watched the tape, we loved the way that Matt played,” Rhule said of the team’s pre-draft evaluation. “His release, his moxy … We just love the way he throws the football, his vision, his timing.”
The Panthers are building Corral’s base as a pro, but there are expectations.
“We’re going to start Matt from the ground up,” Rhule said, then added later, “We don’t draft anybody to just push people or give us depth. We draft everybody because we think we want them to come in and give them a chance to earn a job on this team.
“I’ve been really pleased with Sam so far through Phase II (of the offseason program) … Everyone is seeing a transformation from him right now in technique and fundamentals and physicality. I’m excited where he is. But I’m excited for a competition because that what this game is supposed to be about.
“You’re supposed to earn what you get.”
Issue 3: Are the Panthers still a possible landing spot for Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo?
Rhule didn’t address either player specifically but said adding a veteran quarterback “are all possibilities … We’ll look at all things. We want to have a really strong quarterback room so I don’t think we’d say, ‘No,’ to a veteran at this point.”
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