SPARTANBURG, S.C. — So far, the Carolina Panthers have gotten the filtered version of quarterback Baker Mayfield in terms of trash talking in practice and supplying bulletin board material in interviews. He has been almost … well, Sam Darnold-like, laid back with his answers and antics, as he and Darnold battle for the starting job that is close to being Mayfield’s.
“He’s just holding it in right now,” wide receiver Rashard Higgins said, with a laugh, of Mayfield, his teammate the past four seasons with the Cleveland Browns. “But when it comes out, it’s going to come out. May God be with you when it comes out.”
The coming out party might not be far away. Barring a collapse in Saturday night’s preseason opener at the Washington Commanders and next week’s joint practices with the Patriots in New England, Mayfield is on track to win the starting job that many believe was his to lose all along.
That might give him more freedom to open up his personality, particularly with the Cleveland Browns — who recently chose Deshaun Watson over him — first up on the schedule.
Coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo called Mayfield’s progress in learning the offense during the portion of training camp at Wofford College “impressive.” McAdoo, who rated Mayfield the sixth-best quarterback in 2018, when the Heisman Trophy winner went No. 1 to Cleveland, loves the way Mayfield has taken command of the quarterback room and offense.
Rhule and McAdoo also appear drawn to Mayfield’s big personality, which Rhule liked so much in Cam Newton last season.
Beyond Mayfield’s effectiveness in two-minute and red zone drills, areas Darnold and the Panthers were weak at last season, personality is where he might have the biggest edge in this competition.
Panthers players are drawn to the brashness that almost dares Mayfield to take chances downfield, whereas Darnold is more cautious.
“Every day you just want to go out there and pick him off 12 times just to shut him up,” cornerback Donte Jackson said of Mayfield. “He’s a competitor. That’s what we do. We’re trying to bring out the best of each other.
“We’re not submitting to being a team that’s looked down upon.”
That fits into what McAdoo wants out of his signal-caller.
“I want them to push the envelope,” he said. “I don’t want them to be afraid to make mistakes.”
Both quarterbacks are prone to mistakes, Mayfield ranking first (56) in the league in interceptions and Darnold second (52) since 2018. But many of Mayfield’s mistakes come from trying to fit balls into tight windows, while many of Darnold’s come from chaotic footwork when he panics in the pocket.
Mayfield still has the one trait that McAdoo had no issues with before the 2018 draft. And that goes back to personality.
“He’s got an edge to him. I like that,” he said at the time. “He’s gonna lead. They’re gonna follow him.”
McAdoo still sees that.
“He has a good presence about him,” he said. “And he’s got a fire in his gut.”
This is not to suggest Darnold doesn’t have an edge or fire about him. Mayfield noted Darnold has a sarcastic side he wasn’t aware of before they became teammates. He’s enjoyed getting to know Darnold and talking about their difficult paths in the NFL since they were the first and third picks of the 2018 draft.
But Darnold shows his edge behind the scenes and in a less abrasive way.
“Sam definitely gets chirpy out there,” Jackson said. “He’s a guy that’s going to let you know when he bombs you. He’s going to let you know when he throws a dot and shoots it through about three defenders.
“He’s a competitor. That’s one thing we don’t lack at the quarterback position.’’
Mayfield just wears his competitiveness on his sleeve. It’s the same personality that in 2017 saw him plant the Oklahoma flag in the middle of the field at Ohio State after he delivered a 31-16 victory over the No. 2 Buckeyes.
It’s the same personality that before a college game against Kansas saw him grab his crotch and yell “F— you” several times at the Jayhawks sideline because he was upset about being snubbed by a player during the coin toss and for taking a late hit to the head during the game.
It’s the same personality that saw him take a shot at former NFL coach/ESPN analyst Rex Ryan on social media after Ryan said on the air Mayfield was “overrated as hell.’’
The list goes on and on.
“Good days, bad days, you’re going to hear Baker,” Jackson said. “We like it. He definitely brings the best out of a defense and the offense. You’ve got guys who never really say stuff saying stuff.”
He immediately noted soft-spoken wide receiver DJ Moore.
Linebacker Shaq Thompson compares Mayfield to Newton, whose training camp jawing with former cornerback Josh Norman and linebacker Thomas Davis Sr. in 2015 helped light a fire under the Panthers, who went on to an NFL-best 15-1 record and trip to the Super Bowl.
Thompson interrupted one of Mayfield’s recent news conferences by tossing plastic balls at the quarterback. Again, Mayfield held back.
“Excuse me, Shaq, I’m trying to be a professional over here,” he said.
Darnold is always professional, although he has loosened up a bit this year in terms of joking with reporters.
“Two different personalities for sure,” said Austin Corbett, who played his first year and a half in the league with Mayfield in Cleveland. “Sam is from Southern California, and he’s got that laid-back energy. Baker is from Texas and has his rah-rah attitude.
“That, that’s just who he is. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks about it.”
“I don’t really see Sam talking trash,” he said. “Baker, I’ve seen big trash talk, and he’s usually got a lot of F-bombs in there. I don’t know when it’s going to come out, but it’s going to come out.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism