β€œWhat you do in helmets and shells is one thing, but what you do when you put the pads on is a completely different beast.”

-Matt Rhule

As he navigates his way through the most unusual offseason in the history of the NFL, Matt Rhule is likely looking for milestones to mark the passage while trying desperately to get his team ready for a Week 1 matchup against the Raiders that is growing closer not just by the day, but by the minute. 

He can now cross ‘first padded practice’ off the list as the 80 men on the Panthers roster (minus a few missing) played what looked the most like football of any activity they’ve done since returning to Bank of America Stadium. A steady diet of strength & conditioning that bled into walkthroughs and eventually gave way to helmets and shells had the Panthers strap on pads for the first time this summer – more than two weeks after the first time they did it last season and with only 27 days before the Raiders come to town.  

“It’s definitely starting to feel like football right now,” said Teddy Bridgewater. “We put the pads on and the guys were flying around – you felt that energy from the top down, from Coach Rhule demanding greatness out of everyone….it’s a fun time.”

While there wasn’t as much hitting as I thought there would be during a high-octane Matt Rhule practice, there were moments where the energy was clearly ramped up. The Panthers livestreamed much of the one-on-one and individual drills of practice, so you’ve probably already seen the clip of Matt Rhule demonstrating how he wanted the defensive line drills to be done.

Just in case you haven’t: 

“I didn’t realize there was a camera on me, that was my fault,” laughed Rhule. “I walked by the d-line and I was having a little fun with them, they were all doing it and I said, ‘I can do it, watch’ and I then I got off the field and walked into my phone and I had guys I coached before already sending it to me and laughing at me.”

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“At least I didn’t get hurt – that’s the positive thing.”

Rhule obviously has a way that he wants things done – from hitting the bags correctly to not making mistakes in team drills – the defense jumped offsides and Rhule made his unhappiness clear as the offense celebrated. The first-year head coach made the entire defense – even those watching on the sidelines and the coaches – drop and do five pushups in the blazing North Carolina sun. 

“We can’t beat ourselves,” yelled Rhule as the offense gleefully poked fun at KK Short for his push-up form. Mistakes will be made, but they need to be corrected.

Add it to the book of Rhule-isms that is continuing to get bigger by the day.

Here were some other things I noticed during today’s practice session:

  • The mercury crept up a notch after yesterday’s balmy, cloudy day – there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as the Charlotte temperature climbed into the eighties – not Spartanburg hot by any means, but for the first day in pads, it was definitely warmer.
  • Both KK Short and Mike Davis arrived late to practice – but they were excused. Matt Rhule gave every player, staff member or coach with a child attending their first day of school today – virtual or in person – the option of having the morning off so that they could spend that time with their family. “I believe very much in family and I think that being a father is the most important thing that I am and our players are,” said Rhule after practice. “I made a point to the team at the end about what a pro KK is and what pro Mike Davis is they did that and then they were there for pretty much the whole practice.” Rhule says he’ll be taking his daughters to the bus stop on Thursday morning.
  • I didn’t see tight end Temarrick Hemingway or linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk at practice today. Russell Okung left early again, just as he did yesterday. Rhule has said the team is going to take it easy on Okung as he works through some back tightness – Okung certainly looked nimble during both the individual drills and team drills that he did participate in. Keith Kirkwood, who broke his clavicle earlier in camp, will be out for a few weeks.
  • As you probably saw on the livestream, Jeremy Chinn was doing drills with the linebackers as opposed to the secondary – he mentioned earlier in the offseason that he’d been picking the brains of Shaq Thompson, Tahir Whitehead and Luke Kuechly, so it would appear that he’ll be in a hybrid role. “He has a possibility to be the real deal,” said Tre Boston. “He reminds me a little bit of Shaq [Thompson] when he came in…that kid’s going to be special. Chinn gives you that feel.”
  • It wasn’t a great day for rookie punter Joseph Charlton, who was signed after Mike Palardy tore his ACL – Charlton had a few shanks during the practice session, but in his defense, had a couple of boomers. But it will be ensuring that he is consistently good instead of inconsistently consistent that gets him a place on the roster; the specialists will have two days on, one day off in terms of when they kick. 

  • It would appear that group celebrations are being added to the mix in a Matt Rhule practice – after a touchdown catch by Omar Bayless, the UDFA wideout spiked the ball exuberantly. When Brandon Zylstra caught a Will Grier touchdown during red zone drills late in practice, the entire offensive line ran to him as he handed the ball to a lineman for a Gronk-style spike. For your daily Moore/Samuel highlights, DJ had a diving catch over the middle that drew oohs and ahhs from the assembled media and Samuel had a touchdown catch during one-one-ones that will be retweeted a ton of times this afternoon.
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  • Ian Thomas has been getting a lot of reps thus far during camp and he looks as if he’s put on a little bit of weight this offseason – he was wide open on a deep route early in practice but PJ Walker overthrew him. The Panthers are splitting reps with the second team between Will Grier and PJ Walker thus far in camp and rotating them with the second team.
  • UDFA wide receiver Omar Bayless continues to impress as he battles to try to make the roster and Will Grier has looked a lot better during his second training camp – it’s been noticeable how much sharper he’s been this season compared to as a rookie.

Photo Credit: Panthers

  • A name to watch in the secondary is cornerback TJ Green, who can play multiple positions in the defensive backfield; he was wearing a black jersey on Monday and both Tre Boston and Matt Rhule had some kind words for him after practice – “he’s got all the talent in the world and his process has been really good,” said Rhule. The battle at outside corner will be an interesting one over the next few weeks.
  • During 7-on-7s, Donte Jackson celebrated a PBU while covering DJ Moore, but a flag flew from the backfield – it was Teddy Bridgewater’s towel, who thought Jackson had gotten a little handsy with Moore along the sidelines. 
  • Panthers remain one of only five teams in the NFL who have not had a positive COVID test. “We’ve just got to make sure that everyone’s being smart and keeping their mask on….we’re doing a good job here,” said Tre Boston.
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Josh K
Managing Editor at The Riot Report
Josh Klein is Managing Editor of The Riot Report. His favorite Panther of all time is Chad Cota and he once AIM chatted with Kevin Greene. Follow Josh on Twitter @joshkleinrules.