A third of the Carolina Panthers roster never put on a jersey for the first preseason game of the year.
The projected starters, injured players and seven players that never made it to Indianapolis watched on as the rest of the team fell to Indianapolis on Sunday’s, 21-18. The loss to the Colts featured some good moments, plenty of miscues — and little resolution in the hotly contested backup quarterback competition.
The backup role behind starter Sam Darnold is up for grabs after former Temple and XFL quarterback P.J. Walker won the job last year over 2019 third-round pick Will Grier. In the first preseason game of Matt Rhule’s career as an NFL head coach, neither quarterback had a standout day. Similar to how both quarterbacks looked in training camp, there were inconsistencies and offensive miscues around them. There’s a reason the Panthers have not ruled out bringing in another quarterback.
The Panthers didn’t get out of the game unscathed on the injury front, either, with 2020 fourth-round pick cornerback Troy Pride Jr. leaving the game on a cart after suffering a right knee injury while defending a pass. They were also down two offensive linemen — Matt Kaskey (foot) and Deonte Brown (ankle) — who were injured in the first half and did not return to the game.
Penalties were also a major issue for the offensive line. The were six false starts, including three in a row in the fourth quarter. The final of the three was called on, “everyone, but the center,” by head referee John Hussey. As a team, the Panthers finished the game with 10 penalties
Making a return to Indianapolis, a team with which he spent multiple preseasons earlier in his career, Walker got the start and worked with the second-team offense, including rookie wide receiver Terrace Marshall, who has been receiving plenty of snaps with the first-team offense during training camp. The Colts also played only a couple of defensive starters to begin the game.
Walker started the game and put together a solid first half, with the offense getting six attempts. Walker has no problem taking chances with the football, but accuracy was an issue. Walker overthrew his receivers multiple times, and came way completing 10 of 21 (48%) passes for 161 yards and one touchdown.
In his only start last year against the Detroit Lions, Walker had trouble protecting the football, throwing two end zone interceptions. Against the Colts, he did not turn the ball over and made a couple of nice throws, especially in the direction of Marshall, who finished the game with three receptions for 88 yards. Walker’s longest throw was a 60-yard pass to Marshall.
Walker moved around in the pocket often and threw on the run multiple times. His ability to move around prevented him from being sacked behind an offensive line that did not look stellar throughout the game. He had a solid connection with both Marshall and David Moore, who had two catches for 26 yards.
His only touchdown came on a seven-yard pass to rookie tight end Tommy Tremble, which was set up a 59-yard scamper by rookie running back Chuba Hubbard, who played the entire first half thanks to injuries to running backs Reggie Bonnafon and Rodney Smith, both of whom sat out the game.
In the second half, with Grier at the helm, the Panthers called more run plays. Grier finished the day 5 of 9 for 33 yards. The third-team offense struggled to get going at first, with tight end Giovanni Ricci one of Grier’s most heavily targeted receivers. Grier had a couple of nice throws, including one to Ricci near the red zone, but the tight end fumbled the pass. He also had a couple questionable passes. Both quarterbacks involved the tight end position in the receiving game, an issue for the offense last year,
While four of Walker’s six drives ended in points, only one of Grier’s five ended with a field goal. The team struggled to get much done in the second half, and left plenty to work on in the remaining preseason contests.