One of the joys of training camp is that almost every year there is a player, or sometimes players, that arrive as almost complete unknowns before going on to make enough of an impact to make the roster. While there is still a lot of time between now and final roster cuts, there is one name that has already started to come out of Matt Rhule’s mouth with some consistency.
“I don’t you’ve been at a practice where Sean Chandler hasn’t batted a ball or intercepted a ball” Rhule said to the media following Sunday’s practice. “He plays with tremendous energy, when he makes a thud or something the whole defense comes running out.”
So, who is Sean Chandler, and what is standing between him and a roster spot?
Well, like a lot of current Panthers, Chandler started out at Temple where he played under Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow. While he went undrafted back in 2018, he managed to make the Giants’ initial roster as a rookie and has spent the past three seasons alternating between the active roster and the practice squad, ultimately being claimed by the Panthers last October before once again finding himself back on a practice squad.
Though he has yet to start an NFL game, he was a special teams regular throughout his first two seasons in New York and saw some playing time on defense here and there, especially late in his rookie year. This might not be how many players would hope their first three years in the league play-out, but Chandler is clear that his path this far has given him a great opportunity to continue his development.
“Any day we out there is definitely helpful” said Chandler on Tuesday. “Going out there, just compete and learning football. At the end of the day, that just helps your game go to another level. Whether it’s on the practice squad or the active roster doesn’t really matter.”
While interceptions and big hits get the attention of fans, but don’t worry Chandler does have plenty of those this camp as well, for coaches the key is as much about the little plays that players do or don’t make throughout each practice. While Chandler has certainly had his fair share of big plays this camp, his focus is on mastering the details of the defense and executing on every single play, trusting that the chances as a big play will come as a result.
“Plays are gonna come when you’re running to the ball, doing your job, being where you’re supposed to be,” said Chandler. “I’m in my playbook a lot so I’m in the right spot. The ball just finds me.”
For a player who is looking to earn a roster spot, this approach might not guarantee results, but it will almost certainly give him the best possible chance to make the final roster. If the ball happens to find him once or twice during the Panthers’ preseason games, then that’s only going to help.
Though the Panthers have now been in camp for a couple of weeks, the preseason games haven’t even started yet and so for Chandler to be able to earn a roster spot he needs to capitalize on his hot start to camp. While he can’t control the play of others, looking at himself he admitted that all he can do is continue to work to make sure he doesn’t beat himself out of a job. A mentality that has been a key point of emphasis for the Matt Rhule regime.
“Just being consistent” said Chandler regarding his approach going forwards. “Going out there and being the same guy every day, bringing the same intensity. Being in the right spot, knowing where you’re supposed to be, making sure they can trust you. That’s the way you work the way onto the field, whether that’s on special teams or on defense.”
It is still not exactly clear what the Panthers’ defense is going to look like this year, as while Jeremy Chinn is expected to play more of a conventional safety role in year two there is likely to still be some degree of positional flexibility in how he is used. Juston Burris is still the favorite to start alongside him, and the Panthers have a trio of young safeties in Sam Franklin, Myles Hartsfield and Kenny Robinson to add depth, but Matt Rhule has made it clear that the final couple of roster spots are there for whoever shows they can play, regardless of position.
Making an NFL roster as a rookie is a hard road for all but a select set of players and having managed to climb that road three years ago, Chandler is now facing a similarly touch road to cling on to a second opportunity. A lot of what will go into the decisions the Panthers make is completely out of Chandler’s hands, but if he controls what he can control and continues his fine form throughout the preseason then he has a genuine chance to make the Panthers’ final roster.
If nothing else, he certainly knows what it is he has to do.
“Don’t have too many highs, don’t have too many lows. Just being the same guy.”
(Top phot via Chanelle Smith-Walker/Carolina Panthers)