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Ask The Old Guy: Laying the foundations


CHARLOTTE — Welcome to the weekend of almost.

It's almost summer, still pleasant enough to go out in sleeves in the morning, or sit on the porch at night (which makes it almost perfect). It's almost time for the mandatory minicamp when you'll see a full team on the field at the same time. It's almost time for summer break when football shuts down for a month before the ramp-up to training camp. And what's happening on the field is almost football.

The Panthers are getting work done in OTAs, this isn't perfunctory by any stretch of the imagination. And there's a lot of work to be done, after spending the previous three months putting a roster together through a furious free agency, and a more-eventful-than-they-expected draft.

So when you look at them on the field now, it's almost what it's going to look like, but not exactly. It's not just the absence of pads, either. Dave Canales explained this week that the lack of full gear isn't as big a deal as many think. They know how to play football in pads when they reach this point, so to him, wearing the extra pounds is about conditioning as much as contact. He wants them practicing at something resembling game speed now, which is why it has been interesting to see it come together.

And it's almost time to see a whole team together. (It's also almost the wife's birthday, and I need to plan something real quick, so let's do this Mailbag.)


Hello, fellow OG. I've watched a lot of football in my days, read a lot of commentary, and listened to a lot of coach-speak. Please take a minute to explain the phrase coach Canales has repeatedly used to refer to "getting the football right." Help me understand what this means. Is he referring to philosophy, Xs and Os, or what? Thank you! — Tracy, Lewisville, NC

The answer is yes. It's kind of an all-of-the-above, but mostly, he wants the team to execute the basics of the game correctly.

For one example, during a recent OTA practice, they were working on some two-minute stuff. Coaches had told players how they wanted it done for maximum efficiency, which makes sense since the ticking clock creates an obvious urgency.

After catching a pass, one player casually lobbed the ball back to a teammate in the general vicinity of the huddle. But Canales had told everyone he wanted the ball to go directly back to the center so he could spot it for the official.

So Canales blew the whistle, called the offense back to the original line of scrimmage, and started the segment over. It's a little thing, but he's preaching precision. Until the Panthers show some improvement on offense, their margin of error is going to be very small, so they have to get all the little things right to increase their chances of success.

Little things like getting the ball straight back to Austin Corbett when you're in a hurry.

So, on the next play, that's just what they did.

That's one example of many, and it's not some state secret. Being on time. Being precise. Being prepared. It's not hard, but it is challenging, and it is critical.

Dave Canales


Coach Canales mentioned in one of his recent interviews that he sprinkled in culture points. I'm curious, what kind of culture are the Panthers trying to create, how have you seen that modeled, and what keywords are they using to communicate the culture they want to see?

By the way, this is my first Mailbag question submission. I look forward to following the Mailbag this year as I did last year. I appreciate the perspective you provide. — Nicholas, Centerville, TN

Here's the thing about "culture." You can't order it online or buy it in a store. There aren't buttons you push that make it happen or words you say that make it magically appear. It doesn't get announced and enacted; it grows organically and eventually like a good garden.

So rather than get in the weeds of particular talking points or phrases that might get repeated, it's worth just watching them on the field and seeing what it looks like.

There's a time early in practices when a collection players run a few sprints in three lines (quarterbacks are usually on the other end of the field when this happens). Guys are mostly sorted by position. When they've taken off running recently, you always seem to see the same guys at the front of the lines.

Derrick Brown is always in front of the defensive linemen, as he is in all of their drills. Running back Chuba Hubbard's out front of his group as well. (Cornerback Dicaprio Bootle's also a regular out in front, a guy who gets after it in practice every day.)

But that's Brown, the guy who just got the gigantic contract extension. These are voluntary workouts, and not everyone is here every day. Somebody as great at football and newly rich doesn't have to be here every day working like that. But Brown is, and the example he's setting is clear.

"It's the work ethic of guys like Derrick Brown, you know, our best players happen to be our hardest workers," Canales said. "And so it doesn't leave a lot of space for the rest of the group to kind of pick and choose what they're going to do. They've just got to go; they've got to go hard, they've got to work at it, the individual drills and all that stuff."

So that's how you build culture, by having leaders who do it without talking. And then by being consistent (and giving the ball directly back to the center in two-minute, among other things). It's not a magic wand you wave; it's a tool you have to use day after day.

Also, welcome to the party Nicholas. And for being a good first-timer and being part of our culture here, I'm making you this week's Friend Of The Mailbag, and getting the appropriate honorarium on the way to you soon.

Derrick Brown


When are all of the news and sports reporting groups going to stop predicting ridiculous win outcomes for the Panthers? — Anthony, Aydlett, NC

When they earn the benefit of the doubt, probably.

I'm not sure which ridiculous totals Anthony's referring to since I try not to wade into those waters (predictions in May are roughly as important as mock drafts in March, i.e., not very). Two is probably ridiculous, and so is 13. Somewhere between, there is probably an answer. But my advice would be to spend less time worrying about that and more time enjoying the present.

These are beautiful days, when all the possibilities are in front of you, and also it's not so hot you can't stand to breathe outside. Everybody's 0-0, and it's not 90 yet. And since I looked up Aydlett, I realized you're in a pretty cool place, so it's probably easier to stare out over the water and gain perspective.

I recommend it and envy it.


Darin, Old Guy, by now, your "gut" has become very experienced! Per the NFL website, the Panthers are only predicted to win five games in the upcoming season. Based on the schedule and what you have personally observed, do you think the Panthers will confound expectations and have a breakout season this year or simply modestly improve on last year's dismal results? What does the gut say?

Hey, I'm still waiting for you to contact me to set up that BBQ and beer-tasting tour we've been talking about. Keep Pounding! — Jim, Timberlake, NC

My gut tells me it's hungry. I should go hang out with Jim and ride around in the convertible eating barbecue. That sounds like a pretty good day.

Speaking of, stacking good days is the only way to steadily climb. From what I've seen of the offense over the last couple of weeks, it's reasonable to expect improvement. What that means in terms of wins and losses in the regular season is impossible to predict right now, and depends on a million factors that are impossible to predict.

Whether they win more games this year depends on them, but also on the Falcons, Saints, Bucs, and a lot of other people.

But I do see an offense that looks more cohesive and coherent, a line with more large people on it, a better grade of skill position guys, and a quarterback that looks pretty comfortable with it all. That matters.

After winning two games last year, "improvement" could look a lot of different ways. Being stable would be the biggest thing because that's when you're able to build consistently over the span of months and years rather than days and weeks.


The obvious emphasis on the running game by the new regime is one of the most hope-inducing aspects of the many changes happening off of Mint St. for me. Some of my favorite memories as a fan were when Smash & Dash were running all over everyone. With league trends tilting toward more three and four-WR sets, do you think defensive rosters have also shifted, therefore giving the few run-heavy teams more of an advantage now? Thanks so much for the humor you bring along with all the great insight. — Rick, Locust, NC

I'm just glad Rick doesn't live in Cicada, NC, since I couldn't wait 13 to 17 years to hear from him again. Though not everyone is prepared to appreciate my insect-based humor.

It's an interesting thought, taking advantage of evolving defensive personnel. If the entire league is shifting smaller and quicker, there's definitely a margin to take advantage of bigger and stronger. That's not necessarily why they did this, but Canales doesn't appear to be joking about the run game.

He wants to run and ought to be able to.

The aforementioned Chuba Hubbard grinds, and he should benefit from a better line in front of him as much as Bryce Young will. And with Miles Sanders here (and only a year removed from a 1,200-yard rushing season, they have the luxury of giving Jonathon Brooks time to make sure he's 100 percent.

Based on what we saw in college, Brooks has the potential to be that guy, and having other options around him is a good thing, not a bad one.

And yes, running well is very much in the DNA of the Panthers, whether it was DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, or Stewart and Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert, or Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster back in the day. The world might not think much of running backs, but there's a method of footballing in which having a couple of them is helpful. And the Panthers are kind of in that spot right now, so lean into it.

Chuba Hubbard, Miles Sanders


Another mailbag, another question about the run game. With the signing of Rashaad Penny, this is beginning to look less like running back by committee and more like running back(s) by force of will. While I do like the idea of a club for every situation (and, at this point, every down, including fourth), I am curious to see how this golf bag of backs is ultimately utilized in the new offensive scheme. I imagine a steady barrage of jabs on the ground that eventually set up some unexpected and explosive haymakers through the air. Anyway, that is enough mixing of sports metaphors for one submission. What are the odds that Canales and company bring back the T-Formation to get their money's worth out of this overstocked backfield?

P.S. My sincere apologies to Kassidy for the authorship misattribution regarding the draft story about Brooks. She is certainly a strong writer and a welcome addition! — Jacob, Conway, AR

The short answer is that there are only so many backs you can keep.

Penny is an interesting flier on a known commodity. Canales saw him at his best in Seattle. But this is a shot at redemption, more than anything promised. He's going to have to scrap to make a roster that usually carries three or four backs on the active roster. And with Hubbard, Sanders, Brooks, and Raheem Blackshear, he's looking at traffic.

But the point stands. Being stubborn about running the ball might have been something a young coach said, but it warmed the heart of a guy who loves Old Man Football. And you can run the ball a lot of ways, even if not with running backs.


Do you think the O-line can hold up for Bryce with the new additions they have made? — Dylan, Harrisburg, NC

It shouldn't be worse than last year when they spun the Wheel-O-Guard weekly.

In fact, something Canales said this week speaks to the possibility of significant improvement. He mentioned that left tackle Ikem Ekwonu's ability in the run game was something they were going to depend on. Having Ekwonu do things he's good at gives him a chance to stack some wins, and if they can run (see above answer), it puts him in a better position.

Ekwonu referenced his rookie year, when he had some bumps early, but settled into a routine and then went 10 games without giving up a sack. So he clearly can pass-protect, when he's in a system that suits him. And it sounds like this one does.

With Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis coming aboard, it's a bigger and stronger group, and as long as it's a more stable one, the condition exists for improvement.

Ikem Ekwonu


Hi, how are you, Mr. Old Guy? My son is 13, and very sad to see that his favorite team is the only team that does not get prime time. We're going to our first game against the Washington Commanders on Oct. 20 to see his favorite team, the Carolina Panthers play. We will be sitting in the front row on the Carolina side with a sign saying, 'Thank you, prime time, for not caring about football and not being fair to all the teams.' Yes, we are from Ohio, and it will be a 5 1/2 hour ride, 525 miles to my kid's first ever game because he can't see them on TV. Not fair, but don't worry prime time, my sign will be big enough to be seen by people that care about football. All he wants is to see his favorite player, Bryce Young, and the mascot to see him and hopes to get a picture with him. — Sad dad Jeremy, Lisbon, OH

I get it, and I appreciate you going to the lengths you are to make a memory for you and your son together. He'll remember that trip with you long after he forgets whether the game was during the day or night.

No prime time games might be a drag for fans, but it's a low-key benefit to a football team.

They don't have to worry about playing on a short week, as Thursday and Monday games require, which is a rest-and-recovery advantage.

They'll catch the Bengals and Cowboys coming off Monday night appearances the week before, meaning they're a day short of recovery time. Of course, they also play the Falcons here and at the Broncos after those teams play on Thursday the previous week, meaning their opponents will have that long 10-day break between games. It works both ways.

But the Panthers do have the benefit of rest, and the easy motivation of playing the "no respect" card. Don't think they won't take advantage of it, they already have.


Haven't seen too much support for Jonathan Mingo. Considering his pre-draft reports were pretty much what we saw on the field, I was wondering if the lack of improvement was simply because of the lack of any semblance of decent coaching. Do you think the improvements in coaching staff will bring a big improvement to his game? Will he show the abilities promised when he was drafted? — Terry, Louisburg, NC

As I've said about other guys, I'm not making any judgments about individual players on last year's offense until I see what they look like in a functional one.

Mingo has looked good this spring and has the opportunity to create a role for himself now and in the future. Even if the arrival of Xavier Legette made people forget about him, there's also the fact that Adam Thielen turns 34 in August and Diontae Johnson is in the final year of his contract. The Panthers aren't going to cut bait on a young player under contract, especially one with Mingo's potential.

The preseason will be interesting for him, as well as the entire offense. But he has a real chance to make an impact here.

Jonathan Mingo


I have asked this before but not sure if it's ever been answered. I have been a four club seat owner since 1996. Why do the Panthers not have a home jersey color? Is it because they want to wear white when it's warmer?

I've been watching the NFL for over 50 years. Do I need to name almost every team in the league that does? Does this not give the team and fans more continuity? Of course, it does! You see it in other stadiums and even college. Wouldn't it be great to see everyone wearing blue (or black or white)! I believe the Panthers need every edge they can get. Makes no sense to me. — David, Hickory, NC

In a vacuum, this makes perfect sense. But in a vacuum, there's usually a lot of crumbs and dog hair.

When the team decided on a black-and-blue color scheme for a team in the American South (and it could have been so much worse, but that's another story for another day), they opened the door to some weather-related shuffling.

Simply put, you don't want to wear black in Charlotte in September. You'd rather be in Seersucker, even if it's after Labor Day. But that wasn't one of the options. So until the climate decides to stop changing, this is part of their reality.

The real drag is in the preseason. They had to burn one of their three alternate blue games in Washington the other year for a day game in August, when the opponents opted for white because it's always a million degrees and humid in greater D.C. in August. And since teams are only allowed to wear the alternates or color rush get-ups three times a year, that left the Panthers with just two other chances that season.

While the continuity would be nice, it's not worth a competitive disadvantage.


As a man with infinite connections within the Panthers, would you please petition the organization to give the "92" jersey to kicker Harrison Mevis? He wore the number in college, and it would be cool to have a kicker with a number in the 90s. Also, it would keep from having two players with the same jersey number in training camp (I saw it published that both he and Jack Plummer are currently assigned the "16" jersey). Thanks. P.S. What's the name of the hot dog vendor you like in Charlotte? Coming to town soon, and I love a good hot dog. — Randall, Branchville, SC

There's nothing in the rules saying he can't, after a 2021 rules change allowed kickers to wear anything between 0-49 and 90-99. So I committed a journalism and asked him if he asked for 92 when he got here.

"No, I didn't think about it, really," Mevis replied.

When you're an undrafted rookie, the reality is you take what they hand you, and equipment manager Don Toner handed him 16, and he wasn't going to rock the boat.

But I love non-traditional numbers. I wish Brown would go back to wearing the 5 he wore at Auburn, because single digits look even better on large people.

Speaking of large, I need to update my list, because like general manager Dan Morgan, I love a dog and they're getting harder to find.

With Green's Lunch gone and Brooks' Sandwich House heading in that direction, two of my go-to spots will be gone soon, and I need to restock.

Fancy hot dogs aren't really my jam. I'm an old-school chili-slaw-mustand-white onions guy. Pinky's on the west side makes a good dog, and you can't go wrong with Cook Out when you're in a hurry (go for the quad dog tray, doubling up on your side of corn dog). But I need to replenish my list, so I will happily accept local hot dog recommendations.

I did have the Bojangles Bird Dog recently, and that's a solid eat-while-driving choice, which will get you through some days.

Harrison Mevis


And on that note, let's go lightning round, brought to you by the patron saint of the lightning round Jeff from Fuquay-Varina, to close it out this week.

Is Johnathon Brooks Steve Smith's doppelganger? Or maybe his son lol? — Jamarcus, Conover, NC

I would say I've never seen them in the same place, but I have. If Young Steve circa 2001 had longer hair, I could see it. But Steve's not baby-faced anymore. He's approaching grizzled. It suits him. (Also, two from Catawba County this week. Do the cool kids still say "crib?")

What happened to DJ Johnson? I haven't heard anything about him recently. By the way, how did that blue milk taste? I'm sure it blue your mind! — Zach, Charlotte

DJ's still here, and getting a lot of run at outside linebacker. He better, since DJ Wonnum is still recovering from last year's injury, so Johnson better be ready to play some early.

As for the Star Wars-themed blue milk, it was out of this world. Now GET BACK TO CLASS, ZACH, since school's almost out.

Xavier Legette's nickname should be Country Gravy. Many ways to go with this, and Bojangles should come calling. — Lorenzo, Greensboro, NC

From your lips to God's ears (and my belly. Mmmm, gravy).

When does training camp open and close in 2024? Thanks. — Joe, Flanders, NJ

Stay tuned, that news will be on your doorstep before you know it.

Hi Darin, who are some rookies that you've seen at camp/training camp over the years who you knew pretty immediately that they had "it"? — Carter, Charlotte

It's not very imaginative to say Julius Peppers, but yeah, Julius Peppers. The fact I saw him in Canton last week clearly proves I'm a seer. But 89 was pretty good right off the bat, too, and not everybody saw that in 2001. I remember one reporter saying, "he's too small; he'll never make it in the NFL." It wasn't his best call.

Speaking of, I still haven't gotten my wife a birthday present yet. So unless she wants another Friend Of The Mailbag T-shirt (maybe I can write "best" on this one), I better run. We're almost there, gang.

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