CHARLOTTE – At some point the Panthers probably will wish their bye week was later on the schedule, but Tuesday for players both healthy and healing, they had to be happy.
Head coach Ron Rivera adjusted the practice schedule to give his players, coming off an impressive Week 3 victory over the Bengals, a little longer bye-week break than usual.
"In the past we've given them their traditional Tuesday off and then brought them back on Wednesday," Rivera said. "But we thought about it and said, 'Let's go ahead and do it Tuesday, get their workout in, and then let them go Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and then come back in with a good workday on Monday.'"
With that many consecutive days officially off, Rivera reminded especially the young players to not get too comfortable before he dismissed them Tuesday.
"I made sure that they understand that just because you're going away, you've still got to get a few workouts in to keep yourself in shape," Rivera said. "I also told them to be aware, be smart and understand just how important it is to make sure you're hydrating and eating properly."
The timing of the bye week is often a good news/bad news scenario, and that's the case again this year with the Panthers sharing the earliest one on the schedule with Washington. The other end of the spectrum is Week 12, when the Chiefs and Rams (two of the league's three remaining unbeatens) wrap up the bye weeks.
"Yeah I would like to have one probably three or four weeks from now, but it also came at a good time for us with everybody banged up the way they are," Rivera said. "The nice thing is we have a Thursday night game (against the Steelers) in about six weeks, and that's kind of a mini-bye."
Speaking of mini-byes, the Thursday night schedule isn't totally in Carolina's favor. The Panthers have already faced two opponents (Falcons in Week 2, Bengals in Week 3) that were coming off the benefit of the mini-bye created by a Thursday game, and it will happen two more times – Week 7 against the Eagles and Week 12 against the Seahawks. At least the Panthers get the Redskins in Week 6 after Washington plays a Monday night game.
Dezmen Southward said he expected to hear from the Panthers if the injury bug hit the safety position, and he got the call Monday to re-join the practice squad days after Da'Norris Searcy went on injured reserve.
Now he hopes to answer the call.
"I can't wait to have an opportunity to prove them right," Southward said. "I pride myself on staying prepared and playing smart and physical football. If I do get that chance, that's what people can expect from me."
Searcy, in the concussion protocol for the second time this season, was replaced in the lineup against the Bengals by a combination of veteran Colin Jones and rookie Rashaan Gaulden. Southward, a 2014 third-round draft pick by the Falcons who spent nearly all of 2017 on Carolina's practice squad, is now one of two safeties on the p-squad. Carolina recently changed second-year pro Cole Luke's position designation from cornerback to safety.
"Colin and RG have stepped up, with Mike (Adams) leading the way," said Southward, who played in all 16 games for the Falcons as a rookie. "I expect that to keep going, but if something happens and I get my chance to get in there, I'm going to pick up right where those guys leave off."
Entrenched in the trenches
No position group has known more change than the offensive line, but the unit has really rolled with the changes.
"When you look at it," Rivera said, "you would think these guys have played together for a while."
The Panthers did have the same five for a second consecutive week against Cincinnati, though just one of them – center Ryan Kalil – was where he was expected to be entering training camp. Taylor Moton was a leading candidate to start at left guard who started the season opener at left tackle but has since settled in at his more natural right tackle spot. Left tackle Chris Clark, left guard Greg Van Roten and right guard Tyler Larsen either weren't on the roster in the preseason (Clark) or were considered key depth pieces (Van Roten, Larsen).
The next potential change is the return of Pro Bowl right guard Trai Turner from the concussion protocol. Larsen has played very well in Turner's spot the past two weeks, though change is good when you can add a perennial Pro Bowler to a room where a lot of good things are already happening.
"To give Coach (John) Matsko and Travelle Wharton some props is most certainly deserved. They've earned it," Rivera said. "I think coaching is a big part of it. Part of it is you're able to establish a culture with what we've had the last eight seasons so that when a guy comes into a room, they're going to learn very quickly what it takes to be a part of what we're doing.
"We have a culture that's been tested – we've been pretty good for the most part – and because we've had success doing it that way we'll continue to work that way, and we'll try to improve on it."
View photos of the week of practice leading up to the Panthers' Bye Week.