9 biggest takeaways from Panthers’ 2022 OTAs

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Thursday, which actually wound up playing host to a fun olympic event, marked the final day of 2022 organized team activities for the Carolina Panthers. And even though these workouts didn’t exactly give us any groundbreaking developments, we can come away with a handful of intriguing nuggets (nine, in fact) moving forward.

So, here they are . . .

Christian McCaffrey will likely remain out of preseason play

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Just as he did last preseason, head coach Matt Rhule is certainly leaning towards keeping McCaffrey on the sideline during exhibition games:

“I would hold him out of all the preseason games again. I think he’s had enough hits on his body. But I think, just as we move forward, we’re gonna have a little bit of a different strategy practice-wise with him.”

McCaffrey believes he’ll be able to maintain his health through a careful balance of training and rest:

“Constant listening to your body. Just listen to my body. Do all the little things correct—eat right, sleep right, eliminate any other kind of energy exertions. I know how I feel. And just trusting in that and not overdoing and not underdoing it.”

Ikem Ekwonu is the favorite to start at LT

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Rhule described how his revamped offensive line is beginning to take shape:

“Yeah, I don’t see Brady [Christensen] going over to the right side. We see Brady being a left tackle, left guard, center. Playing along that lefthand side. Dennis Daley really doing the same thing on the right side—playing right guard, right tackle. Cade Mays—really as a young player—is playing center, guard and tackle. He’s really one of the few guys that’s playing three positions. A lot of other guys like Ikem, we’ve just kinda settled him at left tackle. Michael Jordan, settled him in at left guard. So there’s a lot of good competition at those spots. We’ll do our best to get the best five out there.”

Christensen, who didn’t specify the team’s plans for him, said he’s just focused on improving his game:

“Again, a lot was communicated. I’m mostly focused on getting better right now.”

“Like I said, just trying to get better is the goal—wherever position they play me at, that’s where I’m at.”

Right tackle Taylor Moton, the unofficial leader of the group, already sees the potential of Ekwonu:

“I’m seeing a guy that loves to learn. He’s a sponge. And he’s just come a long way and he continues to seek to get better and better. So, this is great to have a guy in the locker room like that—that just strives to be the best version of himself every day.”

Ben McAdoo's offense won't be easy to crack

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Although McAdoo was over the moon to land Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral, the third-round pick won’t be automatically handed the reins to his offense:

“It’s really early now to even say what he needs to do. We need to get to training camp first. Then, obviously, preseason will play a part of it. But it’s not gonna be easy for him. It’s gonna be a challenge. And I’m not here to make it easy for him. I’m here to make it hard on him. So when he does have a chance to play and get in the games, he’s ready to go.”

Wide receiver DJ Moore said McAdoo’s system hasn’t exactly been the easiest to learn:

“It’s long, it’s treacherous, but it’s built for the NFL. It showed that it worked when he was calling it in New York and all the other places that he been. So just gon’ keep goin’ with it.”

“The playbook is long. Like, some of the verbiage is long. You just gotta be able to study and comprehend it.”

Carolina's new, experienced coaching staff is easing the burden on Rhule

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Rhule, who’s had quite a bit on his plate through his first two seasons, remodeled Carolina’s coaching staff with a particular preference in mind—boldness:

“You never wanna be around people that are just yes men. You wanna be around alphas, leaders, people with great ideas. At the same time, we’re gonna debate, we’re gonna argue, we’re gonna do all those things. But when we decide something, we’re gonna carry it on out.”

“But I think the personalities are all coming together in a really nice way. I really like the staff. They’re enjoyable to be around. I think the guys who have been here have done a lot of legwork to get us to this point, where we are right now. The new coaches have been nothing but great.”

Jeremy Chinn will remain (mostly) at safety

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Secondary coach and defensive passing game coordinator Steve Wilks, like everyone else, recognizes the value Chinn’s versatility can bring to a team. Regardless, the third-year defender will keeping taking most of his snaps from the spot he’s always been taking them from.

“Great football player. Extremely smart. Physical. Tough. Can play anywhere on the field. As a coach, you know, I love to have him exactly where he is—which is safety. We can put him down in the box, he can play the Buffalo nickel, he can play linebacker. So we’re not gonna be selfish and just limit him to one position. We’re gonna put him where we need to in order to win football games.”

Derrick Brown is taking a more cerebral approach in what'll be a key third season

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Brown came to OTAs looking a bit more svelte at 320 pounds. But he believes his game-wrecking ability—something he’ll really have to tap into with the decision on his fifth-year option coming up—has more to do with his head than everything else below it.

“I don’t think the weight has to do with it. I think the mindset—for taking the next step. Just kinda getting back to some of the things I did in college and my roots from college. Just never being tired. Just trying to hustle everywhere. Get to where I can be to make an impact. And just keep doing those things.”

Marquis Haynes Sr. and Yetur Gross-Matos will assume bigger roles

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With the team’s leading sack artist Haason Reddick gone, defensive coordinator Phil Snow will look to fill the void in a number of different and creative ways. But he’ll especially be looking towards Haynes Sr. and Gross-Matos.

“Yeah, ya know, Frankie Luvu could show up there. Shaq [Thompson] could. Damien Wilson, I think is a good edge rusher. Cory Littleton. So we have other guys that will play a role in coming off the edge—along with our safety position. Ya know, [Jeremy] Chinn’s a really good blitzer. So, we’ll manufacture that. But really it’s gotta come from Marquis and Yetur [Gross-Matos]. Those guys, I think, will really come along for us and rush the passer off the edge opposite Burns.”

The Panthers could add a veteran QB after next week's minicamp

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Sam Darnold and Corral will have another week to instill any further confidence at the quarterback position. But if they don’t appease the braintrust, Rhule said he and general manager Scott Fitterer could look to add more competition following mandatory minicamp.

“I think as we finish minicamp, Scott and I will talk, really at every position and say, ‘Hey, where are we?’ I think at the end of next week—we sit down, we talk about, ‘Hey, where are we?’ We’ve had a chance to see these guys now for eight weeks, nine weeks. Where do we need to bring some more help in? And where do we need to look for somebody at? Where are we good at? I think those talks happen as you finish up minicamp.”

Donte Jackson didn't want to test free agency

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Jackson, who inked a three-year deal with Carolina out of free agency this spring, said he wasn’t really interested in a new home.

“The Panthers was the only team I was worried about gettin’ anything done with. I wasn’t really focused on testin’ the market or anything. I knew what it was gonna be. I knew this was home. I knew both sides, me and the franchise, agreed that it was gonna happen. We knew. We just had to work out a few things. But it was always Carolina for me.”

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