Baker Mayfield tests fine, but QB probably out 2-6 weeks

CHARLOTTE, NC — Although quarterback Baker Mayfield is expected to miss two to six weeks with a high ankle sprain, Carolina Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks believes he has the talent to turn around a 1-4 team that just fired its head coach.

Tests on Mayfield’s high ankle sprain revealed no other structural damage, but the injury is expected to heal within two to six weeks, a source close to the quarterback told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler on Tuesday. Mayfield wants to try to play through the injury as soon as possible, but that will be an uphill battle, the source said.

“We’ve got the guys that want to do it,” Wilks said Tuesday at his introductory news conference where owner David Tepper was in the audience. “Our work ethic has been consistent from the standpoint of how we approach each and every day practicing.

“We just have to go out to games and execute and finish. So I feel very confident that the guys that we have know that we’re going to turn it around.”

Tepper named Wilks his interim coach Monday after firing Matt Rhule five games into Rhule’s third season of a seven-year, $62 million contract.

Tepper said Wilks, 57, would be considered for the full-time job in 2023 if he “does an amazing job.”

To do that, Wilks will have to start his second stint as head coach with former XFL star PJ Walker as his quarterback. The Panthers will have to go to Sunday’s road game against the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams (2-3) with Walker.

“PJ is up and ready,” Wilks said. “He does a great job of being prepared every day. I have full confidence if he has to step in.”

Walker is the only healthy quarterback on the active roster. Sam Darnold, the 2021 starter, remains on injured reserve with an ankle injury sustained in August and is weeks away from being available.

Carolina would likely call up quarterback Jacob Eason, a fourth-round pick by the Indianapolis Colts in 2020, from the practice squad this week, as well as looking to bring in another quarterback.

Meanwhile, Wilks is focused on the Rams and turning around a team that has lost 11 of its last 12 games.

“We’ve played well enough to win games,” Wilks said. “We have to find a way to finish, and that starts with me and with the coaches.”

Wilks was named Arizona’s head coach in 2018 after coaching at Carolina under Ron Rivera from 2012 to 2017, the last year as defensive coordinator. He was fired after going 3-13.

He was the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns in 2019, while Mayfield was the quarterback. He returned to the Panthers last offseason to serve as defensive pass game coordinator and secondary coach.

One of his first moves as interim coach was to fire defensive coordinator Phil Snow, who worked with Rhule at Temple and Baylor, even though the defense played well enough the first five games to win.

Wilks named defensive running game coordinator Al Holcomb as his defensive coordinator and said Holcomb will call the plays on Sunday. Holcomb was also Wilks’ defensive coordinator at Arizona.

“The outline isn’t going to change much, but you have to be creative in the process of what you’re doing,” Wilks said. “It all depends on who we are playing against.

“Process No. 1 on defense, we have to stop the race and try to make teams one-dimensional.”

Offensively, Wilks said the Panthers have to “create some momentum and some consistency, and that starts with trying to run the ball.”

The Panthers rank last in total offense and 27th in rushing with 89.8 yards per game despite having Christian McCaffrey healthy through all five games.

Wilks knows that the performance of the team under him will determine his future with the organization, and he knows that the track record for full-time interim coaches is not a good one.

But that is not his focus.

“Our focus is going to be to win the day,” he said. “The first thing we have to worry about is trying to win a football game, which starts with the Los Angeles Rams.

“Whatever happens at the end of the year, it will take care of itself.”

Black coaches have been named interim coaches 14 times in the NFL since 1990, but only three times were they hired for the permanent job. according to an investigation by The Washington Post. All three coaches — Romeo Crennel (Kansas City Chiefs), Leslie Frazier (Minnesota Vikings) and Mike Singletary (San Francisco 49ers) — had at least a .500 record after taking over before being named full-time coach. The Post reported that there was no correlation to record when interim white coaches were offered the full-time job.

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