CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers are tinkering with Sam Darnold's mechanics in hopes of salvaging whatever is left of the quarterback's confidence.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule has been working closely with Darnold this week on his footwork, particularly slowing down the QB's backpedal. Darnold's drops have gotten quicker and quicker as the season has progressed, which Rhule believes has thrown off the timing with his receivers.
To help illustrate, Rhule showed Darnold game film from Carolina's Week 2 win against the New Orleans Saints when he was more in sync.
"There's no doubt he can do it — there's no doubt," Rhule said. "I just think you're trying so hard to win, you start trying to do too much, play a little faster, and all of a sudden you look up one day, and you're a little bit harried, you're not quite in rhythm."
The Panthers traded three draft picks for Darnold this offseason in hopes that he'd develop into a franchise quarterback.
But the Panthers have lost four straight games and Darnold has seven interceptions during that span. Rhule finally had enough last Sunday and benched Darnold in the second half of a lopsided 25-3 road loss to the New York Giants.
As Darnold stood on the sideline with his fingers tucked into his shoulder pads up near his throat, it was clear to anyone watching that he had regressed.
Nonetheless, Darnold will start Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
When he steps on the field he said his goal will be to "slow down" his feet in the pocket.
"Sometimes my feet can be fast in a bad way," Darnold said. "Sometimes that's good, but for me, I want everything to be rhythmic and slow. Slower's not a great term, but a little slower and more in rhythm than what I've been doing the last few weeks. Just making sure my timing and rhythm are on point."
Rhule said Carolina's coaches teach quarterbacks that feet set the timing and tempo of a pass play, and the eyes follow from there.
"When you go back and watch the great quarterbacks who play for a long time, the Aaron Rodgerses, the Tom Bradys, they have so much experience and they've played their way through good times and bad times and they can kind of self-regulate," Rhule said.
"Sam is working so hard and trying to push ahead to the next week and what's next and the next practice, and I think taking some time ... to say ‘this is what it looked like when you did it right.' I'm hoping that will gave him a mental picture of ‘this is what I need to do.'"
The Panthers are 0-4 since Christian McCaffrey went down with a hamstring injury and the 2019 All-Pro running back remains on injured reserve.
Darnold disputed the notion that the loss of McCaffrey has impacted his performance.
"My reads don't change just because Christian's not in the game," Darnold said.
Along with being benched, Darnold has had to deal with incessant reports this week about the Panthers potentially being interested in trading for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson as a replacement. Multiple reports have since said the Panthers have backed off after testing the waters before the league's Nov. 2 trade deadline.
Darnold shrugged off the reports, saying "I'm not worried about it. I'm worried about doing my job every single day. ... That's all I'm worried about right now."
The Panthers certainly have reason to worry about Darnold's confidence.
But Rhule is trying to throw his support behind the fourth-year quarterback, who is 16-29 as an NFL starter.
"I feel really good about Sam," Rhule said. "Obviously, it wasn't a great game this past game. I think at the end of the day, when Sam goes back and watches himself, or our whole team goes back and watches himself against the New Orleans Saints, we see exactly what he is and was and can be, and we've got to get him back to that spot."