CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — P.J. Walker remembers looking around the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback room at training camp and thinking it looked mighty crowded.
He spent about a week mulling over his future, coming to the realization that his chances of making the 53-man roster for a third straight season were slim at best.
After all, the team had just traded for Baker Mayfield, drafted Matt Corral in the third round and still had Sam Darnold, who was not a candidate to be traded given his $18.9 million guaranteed salary.
“There was a lot going through my mind because I felt like I could play,” Walker said. “I felt like I was good enough to be the backup here.”
Eventually Walker realized there wasn’t much he could do about being fourth on the depth chart, so he put his head down and went to work and stopped counting roster numbers.
He played in the preseason, but wasn’t very good.
But fate, once again, intervened and suddenly Walker found himself back in the No. 2 role after Darnold and Corral went down with injuries in the preseason.
Now the undrafted Walker appears in line to start Sunday for the Panthers (1-4) against the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams (2-3) after Mayfield injured his left ankle in last week’s 37-15 loss to San Francisco 49ers.
Walker took all of the reps in Wednesday’s padded practice, while Mayfield’s left foot remains in a boot. Interim head coach Steve Wilks hasn’t completely ruled out Mayfield, but said he’d have to see him practice first this week to even consider it.
This is familiar territory for Walker, who is 2-0 as the Panthers’ fill-in starting quarterback.
In 2020, he led the Panthers to a 20-0 win over the Detroit Lions, despite being picked off twice in the end zone. And last year he helped the Panthers beat the Arizona Cardinals 34-10 in a game in which Cam Newton got the glory after scoring two short touchdowns.
Wilks said he’s talked to Walker about the importance of not pressing and trying to do too much — something he knows players tend to do when the losses begin to pile up.
“We don’t need one guy to go to win the football game,” Wilks said. “Just do what we ask you to do and execute. If it’s not there, then throw the check-down, and if you’re going to get sacked throw it away.”
Running back Christian McCaffrey said Walker has what it takes to succeed, calling the 27-year-old QB “cool, calm and collected” in the huddle.
“He’s a pro and he prepares every week like he’s the starter,” McCaffrey said.
The bar, quite frankly, is pretty low right now for Walker.
Mayfield has been brutal this season and ranks near the bottom of almost every statistical passing category in the league. Carolina’s offense is last in the NFL in yards per game.
Wilks said the Panthers won’t change their scheme at this point in the season, but plans to be more aggressive.
“We aren’t going to sit back and react to the defense,” Wilks said. “We want to put pressure on them and have them react to us and mix things in whether it’s inside or outside on the perimeter, and then try to go over the top.”
NOTES: Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn (ribs) was held out of practice after leaving Sunday’s game early. However, safety Xavier Woods (hamstring) returned on a limited basis and linebacker Frankie Luvu (shoulder) practiced full after both missed the 49ers game. Wide receiver D.J. Moore was a full participant in practice despite wearing a green jersey. McCaffrey got his normal day of rest on Wednesday.
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