The Panthers take on the Washington Commanders Saturday at FedEx Field in the first preseason game of the season.
The black and blue start the much-anticipated 2022 season as now the story lines fans followed throughout the offseason come to play against the Commanders on Saturday.
Depending on which camp fans belong to, the ‘preseason doesn’t matter,’ or the ‘these games are important as a barometer for the season,’ there are no shortages of impactful players to watch. Taking it a step further, these players create interesting situations and story lines that should be followed by fans, and many have important questions around them. These are the most important situations that fans should monitor in the Saturday game against Washington.
Who gets the most playing time at quarterback, and what units?
The Panthers made it known early that it wanted another quarterback for the 2022 season. Linked to Deshaun Watson for a long time before he landed in Cleveland, Carolina searched for another QB and swung a deal for Baker Mayfield. This made Mayfield the second quarterback added as the Panthers drafted Matt Corral in the third round of the 2022 draft.
Now, it is critical to see how each of the players do in the preseason game. Head coach Matt Rhule made it clear that Mayfield and Darnold each would get an opportunity to prove themselves with the first game. A decision won’t be made until joint practices against the New England Patriots next week, but Rhule said he plans to get every QB involved in the Commanders game.
It is important to see who makes the most of the opportunity and with what unit. Whoever does the most damage and makes the most of it with the first team will likely be the starter against Cleveland.
Ikem Ekwonu adjustment to the pros
He’s seen more reps with the first team heading into week three of minicamp. While he is still fighting for a starting position with Brady Christensen, both take reps on the o-line with the first team. It is a good problem that these two, young, talented guys are fighting for a position, and playing them together, that choice will be tough.
Ekwonu lines up against Brian Burns, who is one of the better pass rushers already. This test gives the sixth-overall pick a taste of what is to come in the NFL. This also helps the N.C. State product prepare for the game against the Browns where he matches up against Myles Garret.
But in the preseason game against Washington, this will be good practice to see how he can block at the NFL, and if he can handle the swim moves.
The offensive line as a unit
The biggest priority in the offseason for Carolina was retooling the offensive line. Ranked near the bottom of the league, the o-line needed a rebuff as Taylor Moton received the only 70 plus rating on Pro Football Focus.
It is well documented the signings of Austin Corbett and Bradley Bozeman, and the drafting of Ekwonu. Now, it is time to see if this line is better than it was.
It could be argued that it won’t be hard to do when it was so bad, but better pass protection to alleviate the pressure that Darnold faced last year solves a big problem for Carolina. A better line could potentially solve two of the problems the Panthers faced with poor QB play and a terrible line.
It will be monitored in the advanced stats how many times the QB was under pressure, rushed, and sacked, so those are stats that reflect the efficiency of the line. Watch these stats because even if it is preseason, and the first team may not play all game, this line is the biggest project Carolina undertook.
Kickoff is scheduled for a 1 p.m. EST start Saturday.