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Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule calls P.J. Walker 'Phillip' when mad, just 'like my mom'

P.J. Walker will make his second start for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, but then Cam Newton will take over at quarterback. Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers quarterback P.J. Walker will be listening Sunday for the name his mother screamed from the house when he stayed out too late with friends, only the scream will be coming from coach Matt Rhule on the sideline.

If it's "P.J.," he’ll know things are going well and he can continue playing with his friends/teammates at the Arizona Cardinals' State Farm Stadium.

If it’s "Phillip," well, it might be time to at least rein things in.

“P.J. when he’s happy. Phillip when he’s pissed," Walker said of how Rhule -- who coached him at Temple (2013-16) and now with the Panthers -- expresses how he feels about Walker's decision-making. “It’s like my mom, to be honest."

Walker, 26, will be making his second NFL start when the Panthers (4-5) face the Cardinals (8-1) on Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, FOX). He’s replacing Sam Darnold, who is out at least four to six weeks with a shoulder injury.

Initially, this was the moment Walker had dreamed of: the opportunity for an extended period to prove he belongs at the top level despite being undersized at 5-foot-11, 216 pounds.

But on Thursday, the moment suddenly went from an extended opportunity to just one game because the Panthers reunited with Cam Newton. Carolina gave the 2015 NFL MVP a one-year deal to finish out the season, and Newton is expected to start in Week 11 against the Washington Football Team.

There’s even a chance Carolina adds a package or two for Newton on Sunday.

This all is an indictment of what Rhule and the Panthers think about Walker’s ability to lead them to the playoffs.

But this still is Walker’s big chance against a quality team to show he can be a legitimate backup in the NFL and that the promise he showed during a 5-0 run with the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks in 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the league down, wasn’t a fluke.

It’s a chance he might never get again.

“I'm going to just revert back to when I played in the XFL," Walker said. “I had a lot of fun, enjoyed the moment."

Walker became an instant star in the XFL, throwing 15 touchdowns to four interceptions under coach June Jones, the former NFL and college coach known for his wide-open “run and shoot" offense.

When the league folded, he rejoined Rhule, in his first year with the Panthers, over the Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and a couple of other teams. He hopes to bring the same “juice" to the Carolina offense that he brought for Jones.

“The guys around me need that energy, need that juice," Walker said. “That's the most important thing. I want to show them that juice but also know that I need to be calm and settled when it's time to go out there and play."

Mistakes, as Rhule noted a few weeks ago, are what have kept Walker off the field at Carolina. In his only other start, a 20-0 victory against Detroit last season, he had two interceptions in the end zone that didn’t sit well with his coach.

In seven NFL appearances, Walker has five interceptions to only one touchdown. He almost had his sixth pick, again in the end zone, two weeks ago against the Atlanta Falcons after Darnold was sidelined with a concussion.

That got him a dose of “Phillip" from the sideline.

“P.J. can make some plays," Rhule said. “He’s just got to discipline that with good decision-making and protecting the football. If P.J. can protect the football, he can move teams.

“He just has to make better decisions.”

Rhule doesn’t yell much during games. He does at Walker because of the relationship they forged at Temple, where the quarterback was instrumental in turning around the program.

“P.J. is just tough," Rhule said. “He responds to those things."

Walker feels comfortable yelling back, too, as he did at the Atlanta game.

It’s that relationship and understanding (that he would get an opportunity like this if the situation arose) that convinced Walker to sign a two-year, $1.565 million deal with Carolina.

Rhule jokes the decision had more to do with Walker’s fianc√© being a teacher in Charlotte the past five years.

“Me coming to play for coach Rhule, that played a lot into it," Walker said. “I know what he brings to the table. I want to be coached hard. I want to be pushed to that next level of being the best.’’

Teammates gravitate toward Walker because of his toughness.

“He’s going to play relentless, and he’s going to fight to the end," said wide receiver Robby Anderson, one of Walker’s favorite targets at Temple and best friends with the Panthers.

“He’s tough as nails," added running back Christian McCaffrey, who was injured last season when Walker got his opportunity. "We have the utmost confidence in him."

Jones fell in love with Walker in 2014 when his Southern Methodist team beat Temple 59-49. Walker completed 26 of 37 pass attempts for 293 yards and 4 touchdowns, and he rushed 14 times for 92 yards and a touchdown.

“That’s why I drafted him as my quarterback in the XFL," Jones said. “P.J.’s a player. That’s all I can say."

Walker managed that fine line between being a playmaker and mistake-maker under Jones. Proving he can do that in the NFL is what Sunday is about for him.

“This will be the best football I probably play ever," Walker said. “That’s my mindset, go out there and play great football and just be me. Me’s enough."

If not, he will hear the name he never wanted to hear from his mom.

“I’m always prepared for the Phillip," Walker said. “I expect to be called P.J., though, throughout the game. If I hear Phillip a lot, I know I’m not doing too well."