Friday’s training camp session had been sloppy – by almost every definition of the word.
A 20% chance of rain turned into 100% real quick and by the end of practice, it had been steadily raining for over an hour – while the bubble is there for the team to practice in inclement weather, you can’t exactly fit 80 guys doing team drills and installs in there, so at one point, the defense headed inside while the offense did position drills under the drizzle and the entire team finished outside.
The play was sloppy, too – while there were some highlights, quarterbacks missed open targets and even when the ball was placed perfectly, there were drops galore. Seth Roberts dropped a frozen rope over the middle during 7-on-7s while Chris Manhertz, Robby Anderson and Ishmael Hyman all dropped very catchable balls during team drills. DJ Moore couldn’t pull in a pass from Teddy Bridgewater that he probably should have caught, although Corn Elder certainly took credit for a PBU after the play.
So as practice drew to a close, Matt Rhule called his team for the traditional huddle at the center of the practice field – and his team spent ten minutes listening to the words of their new leader.
“I think one of my jobs is to be a mirror,” said Rhule. “Tell them what I see, the good and the bad – go over situational football and all of those things….everyday I’m going to keep trying to give them what my vision of what the team is – I think the biggest thing is when my way or the coach’s way becomes our way and the Carolina Panthers way, we’ll be a good team.”
“We’re trying to get everyone aligned to the same vision now and that’s hard to do because we haven’t had any time together, but the games are coming and we’ve got to make sure that everyone’s moving in the same direction and in the same way.”
Practice is over.
Team has been huddled around Rhule in the 🌧 for the past nine minutes. pic.twitter.com/b8NIItoUUe
— Josh Klein (@joshkleinrules) August 21, 2020
Rhule likens the way he runs his practices to the way he’s been seeing his children learn from their golf lessons – they work on the 8-iron until they know it, then they move onto the 8-iron. You don’t just move on to the 8-iron because it says it’s time on the calendar to move onto the 8-iron.
“They continue to work on what’s not working,” said Rhule. “For me, I try to look at our team and see what we’re doing well and what we need to fix – and if it’s this, I’m going to work more on that. That’s why I alter the practices [and] every practice is a little bit different.”
“Our offense wasn’t good at third and 4-6 [yards], so we started with third and 4-6 down in the red zone. I’m always going to look at it like that golf teacher – work on what needs worked on and once you get good at that, move onto the next thing and always keep evaluating and adjusting to help the team and help their players play their best football.”
Sure enough, the Panthers ran a third-and-medium drill on their first set of drills – and Teddy Bridgewater hit DJ Moore for a touchdown on the right side – even with Yetur Gross-Matos applying pressure.
Here were some other things I noticed during today’s rainy practice:
- UDFA wide receiver Omar Bayless, who had turned a lot of heads during the first few days of camp, was absent again today with a swollen knee. It’s hard to impress – especially in this group of wide receivers – without getting on the field. Curtis Samuel, who spoke to trainers briefly yesterday, was very limited, only participating in one half-speed drill that I saw and spending most of practice on the sidelines with the wide receiver group – he had a tight hamstring that kept him on the sidelines.
- Shaq Thompson and Bravvion Roy, who both missed practice yesterday, returned – Shaq looked like he was taking it easy and making sure that he could stay loose in between reps, but he appears to be on track to 100% health. Russell Okung, who had been leaving practice early to battle back tightness, was out there for most of the session.
- Marty Hurney was observing practice, spending a lot of time watching the offensive and defensive linemen do drills. There were multiple front office eyes watching the session today as the Panthers must start thinking critically about who they want to give reps to, who is looking like they can be a contributor on the practice squad and who will get cut come September 5th. Remember, this isn’t just training camp – because of the shortened (or lack of) offseason, there are times when the team is not just running drills, but installing scheme and gameplan for Week 1.
- Donte Jackson had a nice pass breakup on a Brandon Zylstra target from Will Grier near the left sidelines. Unsurprisingly, he celebrated with an exuberant Shaq Thompson, who was literally dancing on the sidelines.
- The Panthers were in shells today after spending the last three sessions in pads – “It’s definitely good to get back in pads and get back to real football,” said Christian McCaffrey. “With no OTAs, it’s been good to just get right with my eyes and start to get back into the feel and the flow of things with all of the new stuff that we have.” The lack of pads didn’t keep the team from running team drills with physicality – McCaffrey went to the ground for a pass to convert a fourth-and-1 during red zone drills and ran in a score over the left side of the line after a great seal block from Chris Manhertz.
- McCaffrey continues to be virtually unguardable during drills, constantly getting separation, especially over the middle – Bridgewater and McCaffrey are developing a nice chemistry. At one point, McCaffrey was wide open for a score on an angle route over the middle – might want to get some eyes on #22 in the future – and he followed that touchdown with what could only be described as a Gronk-Style Spike. The only notable miss was when Bridgewater threw behind the running back and the pass was almost picked off by Juston Burris.
- As he was last camp, McCaffrey has been splitting time during position drills between the running backs and the wide receiver groups – he has also put in some work with special teams as well. He’s essentially the perfect player to help a young coach install his system and build a culture. “He has a personal standard that’s so high, so [it’s like], why wouldn’t everybody practice that way?” said Rhule. “When you look at Christian, you know what the standard is…you have to ask yourself, ‘why shouldn’t I make that my standard?'”
Matt Rhule on Christian McCaffreys workload this season.
CC: Fantasy Owners pic.twitter.com/SA3OnWvN7K
— Josh Klein (@joshkleinrules) August 21, 2020
- Joey Slye had a missed field goal from 50+ to start the day and then banged through five consecutively – don’t think Joseph Charlton had many punts today, but the Panthers have brought in some competition (maybe for both players?) in punter/kicker Kaare Vedvik, who will join the team once he passes his COVID protocols.
- In red zone drills, Bridgewater hit Robby Anderson for a score with Troy Pride in coverage – Bridgewater has looked miles ahead of both backups, who have had some good throws but neither has been able to pull away in the battle for the backup slot as they continue to split reps. Walker had a tipped interception that was run back for a score by Cole Luke – and by run back, I mean run back. Luke ran 100 yards to the other side of the field, where the first team offense was also doing drills – Luke about crossed the goalline at the same time as Ian Thomas, who was also scoring on the play.
- Dennis Daley has been taking reps as the starting guard on the left side and has been impressing the coaching staff thus far – he’s also learning to read the defensive line better from his neighbor on the left side Russell Okung. “He sees it before it happens,” said Daley.
- The coaching staff continues to rotate the defense as they evaluate who fits best in which roles – the secondary in particular sees a lot of substitutions during plays – it appears that the depth chart is far from set on defense, while the offense seems a bit more stable. The camp battles will continue – nothing is set in stone in the defensive starting lineup. Well, except for Kawann Short, who had a sack today – it’s safe to assume he’ll be a big part of this defense.
(Top Photo Via Carolina Panthers)