While Matt Rhule noted that things for the first minicamp practice weren’t much different for the Panthers than they have been for the past few weeks of OTAs, having had nearly everybody attending practices throughout, one major change has been the presence of Robby Anderson who was a notable absentee throughout OTAs.
Robby Anderson present and accounted for. pic.twitter.com/hXXXeonx7t
— Sheena Quick (@Sheena_Marie3) June 15, 2021
Anderson, and indeed the Panthers as a whole, will hope that his time spent away from the team won’t have any impact on his level of play after putting up career numbers in 2020, and Matt Rhule spoke after practice about hoping that being reconnected with former Jets teammate Sam Darnold helps to re-add a vertical threat to his repertoire. While that relationship is something that will likely take more than one practice to get back to full speed, the potential for the 14 to 11 connection is certainly something to get excited about.
1️⃣4️⃣ & 1️⃣1️⃣ back together pic.twitter.com/X5bEf2nqQs
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) June 15, 2021
Of course, there was a lot going on on the field that didn’t involve Robby Anderson, so what are some other things to note from the first day of minicamp?
Another player who was back on the field on Tuesday after some time away was 2021 first round pick Jaycee Horn, who signed his rookie contract shortly before practice after spending a week away from OTAs. Horn made it clear speaking to the media after practice that he has left his contract negotiations to his agent and focused on football, but the Panthers will likely be relieved that they have their likely #1 corner signed and sealed before they take a month away in anticipation of training camp.
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) June 15, 2021
As well some players returning to practice after some time away, the Panthers also had five try-out players on the field on Tuesday, headlined by former Packers, Washington and Bears safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who if signed would likely be part of the large group of players competing for the #3 safety spot. This isn’t likely to be as significant role as it was in 2020 given Jeremy Chinn’s move towards more of a safety role but is a player who has a chance to be a major contributor should he impress coaches this week.
The other notable try-out players are former Jags and Bills running back TJ Yeldon who could offer a different type of rushing competition behind Christian McCaffrey and former Browns and Cardinals kicker Zane Gonzalez, who would likely compete with Joey Slye for the kicker job through camp. The others trying out were yet another receiver/returner in Rashard Davis and former XFL defensive back Tenny Adewusi.
One player who has been there throughout practices this offseason is Sam Darnold, and while Matt Rhule has explained that the key is for him to make continued improvement day after day, there was certainly room for improvement in his play on Tuesday. He was picked off by Haason Reddick on a pass that was tipped while looking for DJ Moore. After practice, Rhule did explain that without full contact it is harder for offensive linemen to prevent such plays, but it’s certainly not a play that the Panthers will hope shows up repeatedly through camp.
At this point in the offseason, it should be expected that the defense is slightly further ahead, both due to the lack of full contact and the comparatively easier to learn scheme in many cases, and despite the interception Rhule was clear that the focus with Darnold at this stage has to be with the process of how he approaches each snap rather than the end result.
Speaking of interceptions, third year quarterback Will Grier threw a pair of picks and, given that he is expected to start behind PJ Walker on the depth chart after he was given the nod to start against the Lions a year ago in Bridgewater’s absence, it seems as though the former third round pick will face an uphill battle to secure the back-up quarterback spot behind Sam Darnold.
While there were a number of players in red jerseys once again during Tuesday’s practice, Rhule was confident that they will all be back in time for training camp with the exception of second year cornerback Troy Pride. Rhule did not elaborate on the nature of Pride’s injury, but this marks a notable set-back for the former fourth round pick who will face a stiff competition for places in what looks to be a crowded cornerback room.
While the offensive line is still very much in progress, it seems as though the leader in the clubhouse for the starting left tackle spot entering training camp will be free agent acquisition Cam Erving. The journeyman swing tackle who was most recently seen filling in at left tackle for the Cowboys due to injury will likely face challenges from the likes of Brady Christensen, Greg Little and even Dennis Daley throughout camp, but it appears to be his job to lose at this stage.
Finally, rather than a third day of minicamp the Panthers will work on their conditioning later this week, indicative of the greater role that sport science has played in the process for the Rhule staff than was the case under Rivera.
(Top photo via Carolina Panthers)