SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold has had two coronavirus vaccination shots and will be considered fully vaccinated on July 30, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Darnold had his second shot on July 16 and will be considered fully vaccinated 14 days later, said the person, who spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because the team does not disclose players’ vaccination status.
Darnold spoke to the media on Tuesday without a mask and wearing a red band on his wrist when the Panthers arrived at training camp but wouldn’t say if he’d been vaccinated. Unvaccinated players are required to wear masks while speaking to reporters.
Instead, Carolina’s new starting quarterback said his focus is on making “smart decisions” on the field as he tries to resurrect his NFL career after going 13-25 in three seasons in New York, prompting the Jets to trade him to the Panthers.
“People outside looking in can say there is a lot of pressure on (me) and he’s got to win — and that’s true,” Darnold said. “But at the end of the day it’s me going out and doing everything I can today to get better.”
The 24-year-old Darnold said on a Zoom call last month that he hadn’t been vaccinated, adding that he “still has to think about all those certain things that go into it.”
He did not wear a mask Tuesday as he stood a few feet from reporters answering questions.
A Panthers spokesman wouldn’t say if Darnold had been vaccinated, but confirmed that unvaccinated players are required to wear a mask while conducting interviews with the media.
Darnold said the new league protocols on testing that were recently put in place — ones that could result in teams with COVID-19 outbreaks having to forfeit games — didn’t affect his decision.
“For me, I was just making personal decisions the whole way,” Darnold said. “That was pretty much it for me in terms of getting vaccinated or not. It’s been a personal decision the whole time so I weighed my options and made my decision that way.”
Panthers coach Matt Rhule is encouraged that more than 85% of his players are vaccinated, making Carolina one of the most highly vaccinated teams in the league.
“There is no doubt that being vaccinated helps our team,” Rhule said. “The more guys that are vaccinated, the closer we can be in meetings and the more we can be around each other. But at the end of the day it’s everyone’s personal decision.”
On the field, Darnold inherits an offense with considerably more talent than he had to work with in New York.
Although the Panthers have questions at left tackle, they feature a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in D.J Moore and Darnold’s former Jets teammate Robby Anderson, a new weapon at tight end in Dan Arnold and 2019 All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, who said he’s healthy after missing 13 games last season due to injuries.
Darnold seems focused on the task at hand.
He’s been at the stadium almost every day before 7 a.m. lifting weights, watching game film and learning offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s playbook. He’s worked extensively with quarterbacks coach Jordan Palmer on his footwork, hoping to eliminate throwing off his back foot.
Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said he saw significant progress from Darnold during offseason workouts.
“There are times when he’s looked really, really good and you’re like, ‘Wow, he’s making a lot of progress,’” Fitterer said. “And then you throw something new at him and it catches him off guard. But then he changes the next day and doesn’t make that same mistake, which is really good to see.”
McCaffrey has been impressed with what he’s seen from Darnold, who replaced Teddy Bridgewater as the team’s starting QB.
He said Darnold has talked with his teammates to get a feel for their strengths on the field.
“He’s a great leader and he knows exactly who he is and knows how to get the best out of the people around him,” McCaffrey said. “I think his poise is something that is important at the quarterback position. He doesn’t get too high or too low and that is something that we feed off of.”
As Panthers report to training camp, players look to build bond
Football is back in Spartanburg for the first time since the summer of 2019 and guys are ready to get to work.
The Panthers reported for training camp Tuesday morning, and there were a lot of interesting items coming into the dorm, mostly pillows and TVs, some toilet paper.
No one was more amped up than linebacker Denzel Perryman who got out of his car with his helmet on telling reporters he got a ticket on the way in.
”They said 91,” he said. “I was doing the speed limit, but this is how my morning started off.”
Perryman said he asked offensive tackle Taylor Moton for some money to help with the $350 ticket. Moton is fresh off signing a new four-year contract extension worth $72 million -- a deal he said didn’t get done until about 10 minutes before the deadline.
“The decision came down pretty last-minute,” said Moton. “I knew in the back of my mind Carolina is where I wanted to stick around and the deal was wonderful, so it turned into a no-brainer for me to stick around the Carolinas. I love it here and I’m excited to be part of something that I think could be special.”
Linebacker Shaq Thompson is entering his seventh year in the league and said the “young” guys are giving him a new kind of energy and that this training camp is a way to form a brotherhood and a bond.
“You get to know your teammates,” he said. “You get to play card games, you get to play basketball games. You get to build that chemistry. I want to know something about Denzel that nobody else knows. I want to know about his kids. I want to know about his mom, his family and he probably wants to do the same. I just want those guys and even myself to play for each other.”
Thompson also added that because they didn’t have this bonding experience in the dorms last year, that bond wasn’t as strong on the field and at times it felt like they were just playing for random people and not their brothers.
Practice kicks off Wednesday morning at 8:30. Another player to watch will be Christian McCaffrey, who is back healthy and eager to get to work.
Players will be fined $14,650 for any violation of COVID-19 protocol. Players who are unvaccinated are still required to wear a mask.
”The players have done a great job doing that,” Fitterer said. “Our entire staff did a great job educating our players on what the vaccine is, how it can help you. I know personally I believe in it, my entire family has been vaccinated. I think it just helps protect us.”
WTVD contributed to this article.
THE BLIND SIDE
Who will protect Darnold’s blind side remains a question.
The Panthers are hoping free agent pickup Cam Erving can be the answer at left tackle, but Rhule said he hasn’t ruled out moving right tackle Taylor Moton to the left side. Moton, who recently signed a four-year contract extension worth more than $71 million, will start camp at right tackle but will get some reps at left tackle, Rhule said.
FAST AND FURIOUS
The Panthers began filing in to Wofford College on Tuesday morning in preparation for a training camp that will include joint practices with both the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens over the next three weeks.
Some were apparently too eager to get there.
New Panthers linebacker Denzel Perryman showed reporters a speeding ticket from earlier in the morning when he was clocked driving 91 mph in South Carolina, leaving him subject to a $350 fine and six points against his driver’s license.
“That’s the way my morning started off,” Perryman said.
The Panthers placed linebacker Frankie Luvu on the COVID-19 reserve list and safety Lano Hill on the physically unable to perform list.
(WATCH BELOW: Safety protocols announced for Panthers Training Camp)
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