The Carolina Panthers have five practices in the books, with their next phase of camp beginning Tuesday following the addition of fully-padded practices. WFNZ’s Will Palaszczuk empties his notebook with his observations below.
SPARTANBURG, SC — The last practice before the full pads go one was probably the most sloppy practice Matt Rhule has seen in his second season at the helm of the Panthers. There were dropped passes, false starts and interceptions thrown from an offense that has been, at best, uneven through the first five days of training camp.
“Today was not good enough, we ran the wrong routes, today was really poor on offense at times,” Rhule said Monday. “The false starts, the fumbles, interceptions, the missed assignments, [were] really disappointing.”
A bad day on offense meant the defense shined, as rookie Jaycee Horn picked off two balls Monday, giving him three total for the first five practices.
Rhule said the team looked like one that needed to get the pads on for Tuesday’s practice after the mandated seven-day waiting period from the league.
Despite the “case of the Monday’s” from the Panthers, there have been encouraging signs in all three phases of the team through the first five days.
Rookie wide receiver Terrace Marshall has been the sparkling surprise among the offensive rookies in camp, drawing comparisons in stature to former Carolina receiver Mushin Muhammad and Hall-Of-Famer Michael Irvin. Marshall has turned in some impressive catches through the first week, and even has turned the head of former Panthers receiver Steve Smith.
Smith, who will work preseason games on TV for the Panthers, said during Saturday’s practice webcast that Marshall “will steal some folks’ jobs”.
Marshall has been competing for the slot position alongside veteran David Moore, but Rhule said Monday his top two receivers are still unquestionably DJ Moore and Robby Anderson.
Every 7-on-7, every team period, every step taken involving Sam Darnold has been picked apart ad naseum in the first five days. To judge him fairly, however, he has neither embarrassed himself, nor been a major standout.
It’s incredibly evident that the run game will be a big part of this team’s M.O. in 2021, but Rhule has said the run-game install can’t fully go in until the pads are on, to make it a more fair fight against the defense. Given the inconsistencies of the passing game to start camp, it seems that Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady will not try to heap a ton of pressure on Darnold in the opening weeks as he continues to get comfortable with the offense and his receivers.
One encouraging sign, despite the lapses in accuracy, is how Darnold responds from mistakes. Day Two of camp last Thursday was by far his best day, rattling off five consecutive completions of varying difficulty following a pick. He has also developed a good chemistry with fellow newcomer TE Dan Arnold, who hopes to become Darnold’s new security blanket.
The real evaluation period on Darnold won’t truly come until first the pads go on, and also when the team has its first set of joint practices next week in Indianapolis.
Whether it’s a figment of Denzel Perryman’s imagination, or just a convenient way to identify his new teammate, the nickname Baby LeBron was used to describe re-converted safety Jeremy Chinn late last week.
Chinn has moved back to his more natural position of safety this season, but says he’ll still have some sets where he will play closer to the line of scrimmage. The second-year pro said Tuesday his new role comes with some more freedom to play towards the ball, but also has to be assignment correct on certain defensive sets.
Rhule has said on many occasions the team doesn’t get the full value of the player when only utilizing Chinn in one area. The ability to use him as a safety and linebacker provides a guessing game for opposing offenses on how to account for last year’s runner-up for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
It’s been a lonely camp for incumbent kicker Joey Slye, but he’s made the most of his opportunity. Slye banged seven of eight kicks through the uprights during Saturday night’s practice under the lights, missing just one 48-yarder. Rhule has professed outward confidence in Slye, but also has yet to bring in another kicker on the roster to try and push the envelope with competition.
It was largely believed that Slye could have done well with some extra motivation, but both Rhule & GM Scott Fitterer have yet to rule out another kicker joining the roster once preseason games begin.
While much of the talk surrounding Taylor Moton’s entry into camp surrounded his new long-term contract, the majority of the conversation surrounds where exactly he will play the majority of his snaps in 2021. With the left tackle position far from resolved, the coaching staff has floated the idea of experimenting with Moton moving from his usual right side to the left side of the line.
These moves, at least through the first week of camp, have been subtle ones, and have accounted for less than 1/3 of Moton’s actual reps during the 11-on-11 team periods. While it seems like the Moton-to-left-tackle noise is more of an emergency tactic, the team is definitely doing their due diligence on the matter.
We’ll keep an eye on whether those left-side reps increase once the team practices against the Colts.
RUSH TO JUDGMENT
The pass rush underwent a significant overhaul in the offseason with the additions of Hasson Reddick, Morgan Fox and DaQuan Jones to pair with the young talents of Derrick Brown and Brian Burns.
The phrase “pick your poison” has been used by multiple defenders during training camp to characterize the “Sophie’s Choice” opposing offenses find themselves in when trying to figure out who to double-team on the Panthers’ line.
“Derrick Brown is going to attract attention, you have to take advantage of 1-on-1 opportunities,” Jones said. “When you get those, you have to win.”
But ✌️ pic.twitter.com/Nr0LhjR3lE
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) August 2, 2021
EARLY RETURNS ON HORN
The real reviews on Jaycee Horn won’t come until the games really count, but the early returns have him as good as advertised.
Horn on Tuesday picked off a pair of passes, including his second thievery of starter Sam Darnold of this year’s training camp.
The first-round pick still has some issues with his technique, according to Rhule, but his ball skills and instincts are already at an NFL level.
“He’s grabbing and holding way too much. I love Jaycee’s tenacity, but he’s gotta master his craft along the way,” Rhule said. “The ball finds him, he certainly finds a way to get to the ball. There’s no doubt about the things he can do, but like any player, you see the good things, but you gotta work on the bad things.”
NEXT UP: The Panthers will practice Tuesday through Thursday in full pads at Wofford, before returning to Charlotte Friday night for the FanFest at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers will then practice Sunday through next Tuesday before a travel day to Indianapolis for their pair of joint practices with the Colts on August 12th and 13th.