It didn’t take Rasul Douglas very long to make an impression with the Panthers.
On the field and off the field.
Douglas, waived by the Eagles on Sept. 5, was claimed by the Panthers a day later. By the time he joined the team after clearing COVID protocols, it was four days before the opener against the Raiders.
And when Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson got hurt early in the game? In went Douglas.
Douglas has played 182 of a possible 200 snaps for the Panthers, and analytics site Pro Football Focus on Wednesday ranked him as the No. 10 cornerback in the NFL through three weeks.
Yep, that Rasul Douglas.
But Douglas’s impact in Carolina has gone far deeper than what he’s done on the field.
It all started two weeks ago, early in the Panthers’ loss to the Buccaneers in Tampa.
“I remember a point in the game where we were down 21-0 and I looked at everybody and it just looked like a ‘whatever’ type of thing and I didn’t like it,” Douglas said Wednesday. “I didn’t like it.”
So Douglas called head coach Matt Rhule, the former Temple coach, and told him.
Remember, this is two weeks after he joined a new team.
“I talked to him and told him how I felt,” said Douglas, the Eagles’ 3rd-round pick in 2017. “I didn’t feel like we were playing for each other. I had to just tell him how I felt about it because it’s bigger than when you play for the team rather than the individual stuff. We’re not track runners, we’re not boxers, so the individual stuff doesn’t matter. It’s all about the team. What can we do together as a collective? So I said what I felt and he made some key changes.”
One of those changes, suggested by Douglas, was adding a couple team meetings where players had the opportunity to stand up, introduce themselves and talk about their lives, share challenges they’d overcome, express what football means to them.
“Rasul hit me up, and he was just like, ‘You know what coach? It doesn’t feel real close because we don’t really know each other yet,’” Rhule said Wednesday. “’We’ve had these masks on, we’re sitting six feet apart … I play better when I’m playing for somebody.’
“He suggested we have some guys get up and share a little bit about themselves, and we did that Thursday and we did it again Saturday night, and I think when you hear what people have been through and what people have sacrificed to play the game for you they appreciate it.”
Then the Panthers went out and beat the Chargers in Inglewood, Calif., for Rhule’s first win as an NFL head coach.
“We played as a team and that was the fun part of that game,” Rhule said. “When you know that you’re in it together, it has a way more powerful feeling.”
Douglas started 18 games and had five interceptions in his three seasons with the Eagles, and it was somewhat surprising that they cut him considering their lack of cornerback depth.
And nobody needs to be reminded that with Avonte Maddox now hurt, the Eagles could sure use Douglas.
But he’s now a Panther, and he’s already made a huge impact on his new team.
“Rasul Douglas has been a tremendous addition,” Rhule said.
It’s remarkable that Douglas felt confident and comfortable enough after literally 12 days in the Panthers’ facility to call the head coach and share his thoughts about what was missing.
“If we’re going to call each other a family, we’ve got to feel like family,” Douglas said. “At the end of the day, when I go home, It’s from 7 a.m. to probably 7 p.m. that I’m home, then I have two hours, then I’m going to sleep to get back ready for here. If I’m here with you all day, I need to know you. I need to know who you are, I need to know how you think. So when I’m on the field it’s like I want to play for you. So that’s the thing I was trying to get down here.”
None of this would mean anything if Douglas wasn’t playing well.
But according to PFF, he ranks 3rd among 90 qualifying corners so far with 0.6 yards allowed per coverage snap. He’s one of only four corners in the league to allow fewer than 35 passing yards in all three games this year.
Douglas said everything he learned about putting aside your ego and playing as a team he learned with the Eagles.
He was a rookie on the Super Bowl team, and the experience made quite an impact on him.
“That team was a brotherhood,” Douglas said. “We’re still close. I’m still in a group chat with all of then, even though most of us play for a different team now.”
Interesting side note: Douglas’s position coach with the Panthers is former Temple assistant coach Evan Cooper, whose dad was a cornerback for the Eagles in the 1980s.
In three games with the Panthers, Douglas has 14 tackles, a tackle for loss and three pass knockdowns.
But he’s more concerned with how the team looked Sunday than how he looked.
“If we go back and watch Tampa Bay film and then watch the Chargers film, it’s two different defenses out there and two different offenses out there,” Douglas said. “There were spurts where it was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re good.’ Everybody played for each other and it showed on film.”
And one of the big reasons for the transformation is a 25-year-old cornerback who wasn’t good enough to play for the Eagles.