CHARLOTTE -- The résumé of Joe Fields shows that he has a year of experience on the Panthers' practice squad, but given all the changes on defense this year, he might as well be a rookie once again.
"It's Year Two, but with a new defensive staff, it feels like Year One as far as learning," the safety said this summer. "But I definitely feel a lot more comfortable being in this setting and around the guys competing."
Learning represents the bulk of Fields' professional life to date; the health of Carolina's safeties last year ensured that there would be no opportunity to move up to the 53-man roster in his first season.
"I knew going in that unless somebody got hurt, I was going to be (on the practice squad)," Fields said. "But you don't wish injury on any of those guys. You wish you could be out there playing, and that's the business of it, but it was a great group of guys.
"I was ready for when my opportunity came; it just didn't come."
That left him to focus on not only learning last year's defensive scheme, but learning how to understand a pro defense, period.
"I just learned how to sit in the meetings and prepare each week," Fields said. "Sitting down with guys like
"My biggest improvement last year came from being in this atmosphere, competing with the guys, seeing how you've got to pick up your intensity, and knowing the playbook," he added. "If you don't know the playbook, you can't do anything. So all of it goes hand in hand."
That comes in handy even when a defense is altered as it has been since Ron Meeks became defensive coordinator.
"There's definitely a lot of new terminology, (and changes) how we've played certain techniques, like looking at the quarterback as opposed to looking at the man last year in zone coverages," Fields said. "It's just nuances that you've got to get used to.
"It's like all defenses. You've got a chance at flexibility to come down, drop back, lurk in the middle. Coach definitely has a lot of tools for the safeties to be successful; it's just a matter of us learning them and going out and executing."
And Fields not only thinks it will bring out his best in training camp as he looks to break onto the 53-man roster.
"I definitely think it fits my skill set," Fields said. "It allows you to run. It lets athletes be athletes, and I feel like I can be an athlete and make plays."