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Carolina Panthers

Adjusting on the fly to new COVID protocols

Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker, Cam Newton

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers are adjusting everything because of the updated COVID-19 protocols the league put in place Thursday afternoon, from the way they prepare for this weekend's road trip to the way their quarterbacks meet.

Between the new protocols which forbid in-person meetings indoors and third quarterback Matt Barkley going on the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday morning, the Panthers are taking active steps to make sure they have a quarterback this week.

The first step was to keep backup quarterback P.J. Walker away from starter Cam Newton during meetings, making sure one or the other would be available for Sunday's game with the Bills.

"Earlier in the week, we sequestered P.J. and made his meetings remote, so we give ourselves the best chance of limiting any contact," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said Friday. "Obviously, it's a concern, one we have to be prepared for, but as of right now, there's been nothing (in terms of more positive tests) so far."

Rhule suggested that Sam Darnold was unlikely to be activated since he hasn't been medically cleared yet (they'd need to move up some medical tests that were scheduled for next week).

"If something were to happen, we could move up his doctor's appointment and see if he is cleared," Rhule said. "He's prepared all week, but we have not done that as of yet."

Rhule also mentioned another layer of contingency planning, as they have packages for practice squad running back Reggie Bonnafon — who was a quarterback at Louisville before Lamar Jackson showed up there. Bonnafon would likely be promoted from the practice squad tomorrow anyway, since the Panthers have just two tailbacks on the active roster.

The Panthers also have the ability to use wide receivers DJ Moore or Brandon Zylstra at quarterback if need be.

The Panthers have a relatively mild problem, as there are teams with many more players on the list, creating huge logistical and competitive-advantage problems. The Panthers have just two (Barkley and running back Christian McCaffrey, who was already out for the year). Players deemed close contacts to them will have to test more frequently for the next few days.

Asked if he was holding his breath over the rest of their test results, Rhule replied: "I think everyone in the National Football League is right now when you see what's happening."

They will also have to change the way they're doing business on the road.

The new protocols prohibit large gatherings of players indoors, so the normal team meeting Saturday night will be held virtually. Players also can't leave the hotel for meals, or have guests in.

The latest protocols are in place through the conclusion of this week's games, so another set of guidance will likely come down from the league early next week.

Until then, they are using the Atrium Health Dome as meeting space, with chairs and tables and video screens and whiteboards scattered in every corner to allow for distancing. That forced them to move chairs out of the way on the turf to get Friday's walkthrough in, but adapting has been the norm for the last 24 hours.

"They came last night, and had to quickly work," Rhule said of the team's operation staff, video, and IT departments. "They stepped up immediately and got it all done."

View photos from Thursday's practice as the Panthers prepare to face Buffalo.

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