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Carolina Panthers

Ben McAdoo sees "avenue to win" on offense

Sam Darnold, Christian McCaffrey

CHARLOTTE — It's still far too soon for new Panthers offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo to know too many particulars, even in terms of philosophy.

But when he was looking around this offseason, he saw things here he thought he could work with.

The new play-caller said he saw "an avenue to win" with the parts the Panthers had in place, with the important caveat that there are still some very significant parts to be filled in next week during the 2022 NFL Draft.

McAdoo wasn't going to be pinned down on much during his first press conference since being hired by the team this offseason, even suggesting that he may have gone too far by declaring Sam Darnold the starting quarterback (even though he's the incumbent and there are only two on the roster).

But he was optimistic about the group he's inheriting, after the Panthers finished 2021 ranked 30th in the league in total offense and 29th in scoring.

"It's not a tear-down, to me, in any stretch of the imagination," McAdoo said Tuesday. "We have some good players here. I didn't come here to lose.

"The foundation's there. The wins may not have been there yet. But the foundation is there, and I see an avenue to win. When we go on the field, we just have to ask the players what they do best."

McAdoo said his faith was mainly based on head coach Matt Rhule, with whom he has a number of ties from their respective days with the Giants. But he also believes Darnold can improve after an up-and-down season, considering the help he has at the skill positions, and an upgraded offensive line.

In a 2018 interview with the New York Post, the former Giants head coach said he liked many things about the just-picked Jets quarterback, though he had some reservations about his mechanics. In that interview, he said Darnold "has a lot of magic in his game," while noting a "fundamental flaw" in his passing motion.

But Tuesday, he said he was bullish on Darnold after their short amount of work together.

"Yeah, Sam was one of the people that intrigued me about the job, to be honest with you," McAdoo said. "I think Sam does have some magic in his game. I think he's got some athleticism to him. I'm excited to work with Sam. We've been working the last few days here to kind of get up to speed on the offense.

"And he's shown flashes of being a good player in this league, and working together, hopefully we can get that to show up more consistently."

Darnold led the Panthers to a 3-0 start, playing competent football last year. But when Christian McCaffrey went down with an injury in Houston in that third game, it started a collective skid on offense that the Panthers never really steered out of, while using 13 different combinations of linemen in 17 games.

Otherwise, McAdoo mostly spoke in generalities, since players have been in the building two days, and won't take the field together for a couple of weeks.

He wasn't offering much in the way of big opinions on draft prospects either, since the Panthers hold the sixth overall pick and have been looking intently at all the top left tackle and quarterback prospects.

— On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Phil Snow's job was complicated by the loss of outside linebacker Haason Reddick in free agency. After an 11.0-sack season, Reddick signed with the Eagles early in the open market.

But Snow mentioned a variety of names that he'd use to try to manufacture pressure on the other side from defensive end Brian Burns. The Panthers re-signed outside linebacker Frankie Luvu and defensive end Marquis Haynes Sr., and Snow mentioned alternative options including Shaq Thompson and Jeremy Chinn as well.

"Well, we still have a lot of people that can rush off the edge," Snow said. "Even like (free agent pickup) Cory Littleton came in, he's a really a good edge-rusher. We still have Frankie Luvu, we have other guys, Shaq is good off the edge, Jeremy is good off the edge. So we're just going to have to be a little more creative in how we rush the ones side. We brought Marquis back to rush off the edge. We still have a lot of capable people of getting pressure.

"I love Haason; I'm proud of him, we had him in college, and I'm glad for him. But we have a lot of good players here that we can still get pressure off the edge with. We just have to be creative with how we do it."

While he didn't mention defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos among that group, he did say the third-year end had a chance to make more of an impact as an edge player on early downs and an interior rusher on third downs.

"Yetur is going to play over the tight end, and he'll present a lot of problems on first and second down," Snow said. "Obviously, he's a really good pass-rusher on third down inside. So he gives us that flexibility to use him in a lot of different ways. But Yetur will be an effective edge guy for us, but I think his real pressure is going to come inside on third down. I'm excited about all the different ways we can use Yetur."

View photos from the weight room as Panthers players returned for offseason workouts on Monday.

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