Steve Wilks: Baker Mayfield has to earn Panthers QB job when healthy

ByDavid Newton ESPN logo
Monday, October 17, 2022

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks doesn't plan to simply give Baker Mayfield the starting quarterback job when he recovers from a left ankle sprain that kept him from playing in Sunday's 24-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

"I can't give you that answer,'' Wilks said Monday when asked if Mayfield would be his starter when healthy. "But I can tell you right now those guys [in the quarterback room] are going to compete at that position just as well as other positions do to see who exactly goes out there on Sunday.''

The Panthers' quarterback situation is in such a flux that Wilks couldn't say who would start Sunday's game against NFC South rival Tampa Bay (3-3).

PJ Walker said he will be ready to practice on Wednesday even though he wasn't able to finish Sunday's game in Los Angeles because of a fourth-quarter neck injury. Mayfield on Monday was out of the walking boot he wore on the sideline Sunday, but Wilks acknowledged the latest MRI on the quarterback's ankle showed a ligament tear that could keep him sidelined.

Wilks expects 2021 starter Sam Darnold to come off injured reserve on Wednesday after missing the first six games with an ankle injury suffered in late August, but it's unlikely he could be ready for Sunday's game.

The only quarterback on the roster without any injury issue is Jacob Eason, who went 3-for-5 for 59 yards with an interception Sunday after Walker was injured. Eason was on the practice squad until Saturday.

"They're all considered to be in the mix, particularly with some of the injuries we have,'' Wilks said. "I told [Eason] on the plane I was very pleased with how he played with poise and really took the team down and put us in a position where we had an opportunity to score.''

Walker seems the most likely candidate to start for the Panthers (1-5) based on experience. He was 2-0 as an NFL starter before Sunday, but completed only 10 of 16 pass attempts for 60 yards in a game plan that called on him to throw short, safe passes instead of taking chances downfield as he admittedly is known for.

"It's tough to say,'' Wilks said when asked if Walker would start. "He cleared the concussion protocol. He's still dealing with a little bit of soreness in his neck. Most importantly, it's the progression of practice this week.''

Wilks was just as noncommittal about Darnold, who will have 21 days to return to play once he is activated from injured reserve.

"It's hard to say just from a standpoint I haven't seen him,'' Wilks said. "I've got a lot of confidence in him as an individual and a player, but being off so long you don't know exactly how he's going to return.''

Mayfield's 15.5 Total Quarterback Rating ranked last by far in the NFL before his injury. The next closest was New York Jets quarterback Joe Flacco at 30.2.

There was optimism Mayfield could be Walker's backup late last week after an intense workout before the team received results of his latest MRI. He was out of his walking boot and running well.

He was back in the walking boot on Sunday, putting the initial diagnosis for recovery of two to six weeks back in play.

"If you had seen the workout, you would have probably came back and said I can't believe the MRI came back this way,'' Wilks said. "We just want to make sure that we're doing the right thing and not trying to force the issue once we realized there was still damage there.''