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Carolina Panthers

2020 Training Camp Observations: Defense rules the day


CHARLOTTE — Carolina's second practice in pads was almost exclusively 11-on-11 work, with different in-game situations presented throughout Tuesday's session.

It wasn't an actual scrimmage because the team wasn't tackling. But it was about as close as you'll get without going any farther, including the offense and defense staying on separate sidelines for the whole practice.

Head coach Matt Rhule said without OTAs and preseason games, it was essential to put players in a lot of different situations. In that way, the 89 reps they ran through should be a valuable evaluation tool.

"Sometimes, you have to just play those situations out and learn from them," Rhule said. "I thought we had some good things, we had some bad things. We put the ball on the ground three times, we fumbled three times, which is great for our defense. You're going to win that game every time, but on offense obviously not good enough."

The players will be off Wednesday before getting back on the field Thursday morning.

Here are some more observations from Tuesday's session:

— Before the team drills started, returners got in some work outside the Atrium Health Dome, as did the kicking specialists. Joey Slye showed off his leg strength by bombing some kicks through the uprights.

— During their work indoors, players went through a fun ball security exercise where not only did defenders try to strip the ball from the offense, but running backs like Christian McCaffrey and Mike Davis got to try their hands at forcing a fumble.

CMC:Mike Davis ball security drill

— Throughout the practice, the team's offensive and defensive units matched to their corresponding level. The first-team offense went against the first-team defense, and so on. Rhule did instruct the groups to rotate different players in, though.

"Sometimes, you never know what a guy can do until you give him a shot," Rhule said.

— The first 11-on-11 situation on Tuesday was a traditional move-the-ball drill. The offense started deep in its own territory and had to try to score. Defensive tackle Derrick Brown picked up a run stuff on McCaffrey early in the drive, clogging the middle of the line. Wide receiver Robby Anderson also caught a short pass on the right and took it for a big gain with yards after the catch to put the offense in the red zone. But the defense kept the offense out of the box, making the unit settle for a field goal.

— Quarterback Will Grier put together a string of solid reps. He connected with newcomer wide receiver Tommylee Lewis on an intermediate route to the right. Grier also showed some wheels on a red-zone play, scrambling inside the 5-yard line before sliding down. Running back Jordan Scarlett finished that possession with a run up the middle for a touchdown.

— Celebrating touchdowns has been encouraged during the first few open practices. After most scoring plays, the player with the ball will either spike it or hand it to an offensive lineman to do the honors.

Sam Tecklenburg spike

— Following the score, the Panthers worked through an extra point, and a kickoff, much like it would be during a real game. Carolina kept that up throughout the session with punts and kicks.

— The next segment saw the offense backed up to the 1-yard line to start its drive. The starters were able to get a first down with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater converting with McCaffrey over the middle. But the defense forced a punt on the next set of downs.

— It really was a day of defense. Cornerback Eli Apple was particularly solid in coverage, and shortly after safety Kenny Robinson caused wide receiver Seth Roberts to fumble, defensive end Brian Burns knocked the ball out of McCaffrey's hands. But McCaffrey, who's only lost four fumbles in his first three seasons, was able to jump on the loose ball. 

— Of course, the offense also made some plays. During a red-zone drill, Bridgewater connected with wide receiver Robby Anderson for a touchdown on the right side. After a play-action fake, Bridgewater made a nice throw to float the ball over Anderson's shoulder in the end zone.

— A few minutes later, quarterback P.J. Walker and wide receiver Seth Roberts executed in the red zone. Walker threw a dart over the middle for Roberts, who grabbed it in the back of the end zone.

— Walker also connected with newcomer tight end Andrew Vollert over the middle in the red zone, with the tight end scooting into the paint for a scoring strike.

— In the middle of practice, the units had benches brought out to their respective sidelines so players could take a breather when not on the field. That also simulates the sideline of a real game a bit better. While it wasn't a scorcher of a morning, it was hotter than it had been during the two previous practices.

Donte drinking water

— During a two-minute drill, safety Juston Burris broke up a pass over the middle. But Bridgewater hit wide receiver DJ Moore with a pair of intermediate routes on the left side, both of which stopped the clock and helped put the offense in scoring position. Slye hit a field goal to complete the drive.

— Running back Mike Davis got a few carries in a four-minute offense segment, helping burn time off the clock. But when Bridgewater tried to scramble for a first down on the left side, his slide was ruled down before he reached the marker.

— The 11-on-11 work finished with a pair of 2-point plays, and the defense won both with strong coverage. Bridgewater had to hold the ball longer than he planned to, and his pass was broken up. Then, when Walker tried to make something happen by moving back in the pocket, he was eventually surrounded by defenders and would've been sacked by Yetur Gross-Matos.

View photos from Tuesday's practice at training camp.

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