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New coach, questions ahead of Carolina Panthers training camp
Coronavirus to Rhule, there’s uncharted territory
Published Tuesday, July 21, 2020 5:21 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

Panthers defensive end Brian Burns, who tallied 25 tackles and 7.5 sacks as a rookie in 2019, will be a major cog in Carolina’s remade defense when camp opens on July 28.

COVID-19 has added another layer of unknown – and risk – to the Panthers’ season.

For the first time, training camp, which opens July 28, will be held at Bank of America Stadium, Because of state orders, the usual gathering of 90 players along with coaches and other personnel off limits. The team hasn’t released its protocols for testing people for infections, either, while the NFL and the players association hash out details for the league.
Once those protocols are finalized, there’s the possibility of players opting out of the season. No one has publicly announced they won’t participate, but if it happens, what will be the fallout?

One thing’s for sure: Players and coaches will work in smaller groups and physical distancing will be enforced – even down to locker room and shower space. And there’s only two preseason games, half the usual schedule for marginal players to make an impression.

Otherwise, it’s business as usual.

Here’s some of the topics to consider when camp kicks off next week in Charlotte.

How quickly will new coach Matt Rhule translate his imprint on the franchise?
Rhule didn’t have minicamps to gauge players and in the runup to camp, so it’s hard to tell how much of his philosophy is actually in place physically. Ask any school kid – or parent, for that matter – about the difference between in-person and remote learning.

Where’s Christian McCaffrey’s ceiling?
The running back is the clear-cut face of the franchise and has the contract to prove it. McCaffrey is the highest-paid player at his position in league history and he’ll get a chance to earn every nickel as a dynamic runner and receiver.

Out with Mercurial Cam, in with Steady Teddy
Teddy Bridgewater is the offseason’s most important player addition. A full-time starter for the first time since 2016 when he blew out his knee with the Vikings, Bridgewater is healthy and mature, which will be necessary for Carolina to contend. He’s familiar with offensive coordinator Joe Brady from their time in New Orleans, so that’s a plus.

What will all those draft picks do for the defense?
Carolina is betting big on its NFL-record 100% all-defense rookie class to make an impact on a unit that was historically bad in 2019.

It starts up front with top pick Derrick Brown at defensive tackle, who will pair with Kawann Short as athletic big men to create havoc in the middle.

Yetur Gross-Matos will get a long look at defensive end, where he’ll compete to get into the rotation opposite Brian Burns (7.5 sacks last season as a rookie) and the improved Efe Obada. If you’re looking for long-term potential, check out Jeremy Chinn, a 6-3, 220-pound safety with playmaking instincts.

Starting over in the secondary
James Bradberry, Carolina’s best cornerback last year, took off in free agency and Donte Jackson took a step backward, which left him on thin ice for 2020.

Eli Apple, who has been up and down over his first four years in the league, comes over from New Orleans to shore up one corner. Juston Burris, a free agent pickup from Cleveland, will pencil in at strong safety opposite free safety Tre Boston, who re-signed.


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