Panthers’ PJ Walker to start at QB against Buccaneers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — P.J. Walker will make his second straight start at quarterback for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Interim head coach Steve Wilks said Jacob Eason will serve as the backup.

This is the first time in his NFL career that Walker has started consecutive games.

“I have confidence in P.J.,” Wilks said.

The news comes following Sam Darnold’s return to practice on Wednesday after being designated to return from injured reserve.

Wilks indicated that he wants to give Darnold — who missed the first six games after suffering a high ankle sprain in the preseason — more time to recover. The Panthers have 21 days to activate him to the 53-man roster.

“I don’t see Sam being in a position to where he is going to progress” this week, Wilks said of Darnold’s potential return. “I don’t feel comfortable as a head coach trying to press that. When he can communicate to me that he’s ready, we will move forward.”

Darnold took reps with the scout team on Wednesday.

Darnold was 4-7 as the team’s starting quarterback last year, where he completed 59.8% of his passes for 2,527 yards and had nine touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.

Baker Mayfield, who started the team’s first five games, was held out of practice again as he attempts to recover from an ankle sprain he sustained in a Week 5 loss to San Francisco. He’s being evaluated on a week-to-week basis but will not play Sunday.

Wilks said the starting quarterback moving forward will be determined on a week-by-week basis.

The big question heading into Sunday becomes if the Panthers will allow Walker to throw the ball downfield.

Walker struggled last week, completing just 10 of 16 passes for 60 yards in a 24-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams before leaving in the fourth quarter with a neck injury.

His throws were almost exclusively screen passes as the Panthers kept things conservative wanting to avoid turnovers.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Walker’s average intended air yards was 0.1 yards — which means that the average depth of his throws was barely past the line of scrimmage.

That strategy didn’t work so well as the Panthers scored just three points on offense with their only touchdown coming on an interception return by cornerback Donte Jackson.

Wilks was non-committal about whether the Panthers will try to throw the ball downfield more against the Buccaneers.

“I anticipate us doing whatever we can to win the football game,” Wilks said. “If that is pushing the ball down the field or running the ball a certain amount of times, we will see exactly how the game flows.”

Walker said his goal is to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers.

But he added that he hasn’t spoken to coaches about throwing downfield more.

“With the run game working the way it was last week if we can get the ball downfield it will soften up the secondary and we will be good to go and be able to run the ball even more,” Walker said.

“It’s going to come,” he added.

Carolina (1-5) has the NFL’s 32nd-ranked offense and has lost 12 of its past 13 games.

NOTES: The Panthers also designated defensive tackle Bravvion Roy to return from injured reserve. ... Wilks has yet to announce a starting wide receiver opposite D.J. Moore after the team traded Robbie Anderson to the Arizona Cardinals on Monday. Possibilities including Terrace Marshall, Laviska Shenault and Shi Smith. ... Cornerbacks Donte Jackson (ankle) and C.J. Henderson (concussion) were held out of practice but Wilks anticipates both playing Sunday. ... Cornerback Jaycee Horn (ribs) returned to practice on a limited basis after missing last week’s game.

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