Just over a week before their season opener against the Las Vegas Raiders, the Panthers and head coach Matt Rhule held a mock gameday at Bank of America Stadium Friday afternoon. This gave the team the opportunity to see what a game during the 2020 season, specifically one with no fans in the stadium, will be like – the scoreboard was on, the music (and the fake crowd noise) was pumping, there was even a halftime break. Everything was ready to see how prepared the Panthers were to take on the Raiders.

It seems the team has a lot to work on before Sept. 13.

Rhule was quick to share his displeasure with reporters after the scrimmage.

“We did not play like a team that was excited to be out there,” Rhule said. “I felt like it was not the requisite level needed to play at a high level. That’s something we will have to learn from. I thought the younger guys played with energy and passion and, at times, played well. But I was not overly pleased with the starters, which always goes back to the coaching staff and myself.” 


Photo Credit: Brandon Todd/Carolina Panthers

That’s certainly not the type of vote of confidence anyone wants to hear nine days before their season opener. The Panthers needed to have a simulated gameday for a variety of reasons. 

Players who are used to drawing energy from the fans will now have to create their own energy both before and during the games – the roar of the crowd can provide that extra boost of adrenaline on a given play, but with the majority of NFL stadiums mainly empty this fall, in-game energy is going to need to be intrinsically generated. 

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Rhule knows that in a training camp with no preseason, there are going to be mistakes – he isn’t worried about the errors – those are going to happen. It’s the lackadaisical attitude from the starters, who are supposed to be leading their team, that he’s worried about.

“Football is a game of mistakes,” Rhule said. “Teams get way better as the year goes on. What you will see in the National Football League this year is [that] who teams are in Week 1…is not who they’re going to be. We have been practicing together for weeks now. We will get better and better. At the end of the day, at your core as a football player, we want to be a team that always plays hard with passion and energy.”

“And that was a little bit of a challenge today. Music not real loud, no one in the stands. We are going to have to create our own energy and we are going to have to play at a high level. So that’s more of my concern. I’m not concerned with the mistakes. Mistakes happen all the time in football. It’s about who plays harder to overcome the mistakes.”

Rhule wasn’t the only person who thought the Panthers didn’t perform up to their potential. The players also felt like something was missing during Friday’s dress rehearsal. 

“We agreed with Coach Rhule,” said WR Curtis Samuel. “We felt like we didn’t come out initially with that energy like it was game day. We don’t want to start out slow. We want to get out there [even with] no fans and create our own energy. We can’t just be out there running around going through the motions, it is time to get ready for a game. So Coach Rhule was right.”

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“Next time, we just have to find the energy within ourselves, feed off each other, listen, whatever we have to do to get our minds right for a game.”

Friday was the final opportunity for Panthers players to show what they had before the mandatory cut down. On Saturday, the Panthers, like 31 other teams, have to trim their roster down to 53 active players.

Rhule and Panthers general manager Marty Hurney may decide to release some players on Friday, and the rest on Saturday afternoon. A lot of those players released could return to the team’s practice squad as it will increase from 10 to 16 players due to the pandemic. 

Moving forward, Rhule says he just wants to see more consistency as the season draws closer. 

“I think the most important thing is a lot of them aren’t happy about how it went,” Rhule said. “I shared my feeling both on the field, [at] halftime, and at the end of the game – we move forward and move on from it.”

“If you want to have great moments, you have to have some bad moments. We don’t want it to be winning and losing by just watching. [I want it to be where you] can’t tell if we are winning by 20 or losing by 20 if you see us play – that’s truly playing the game at the purest form. We don’t want to make a lot of decisions about [whether] we feel like playing, [whether] we don’t feel like playing, we just want to go out there and be the same [team] everyday.”

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A better team than they were on Friday afternoon.

(Top Photo Via Carolina Panthers)

Antwan S
Antwan Staley has written for publications such as USA TODAY, Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.