CHARLOTTE — We're a month away from the Panthers facing their first 2020 opponent in the Raiders on Sept. 13. Until then, part of linebacker Tahir Whitehead's job will be to slow down the considerable speed in Carolina's wide receiving corps at practice.
When asked on Thursday how all that speed affects a defense, Whitehead made it clear he's happy he won't have to stop his teammates when the season begins.
"It keeps you up at night, that's exactly what the hell it does," Whitehead said with a laugh.
Between Curtis Samuel, Robby Anderson, and DJ Moore, the Panthers should have one of the fastest wide receiving groups in the league. Samuel ran a 4.31 40 at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine. Anderson ran a 4.34 40 at his pro day. Moore is the "slowest," as his combine 40 was 4.43.
"Those two, they could take it to the house at any time. I can too," Moore said.
But is that trio the fastest in the league?
"I'm not worried about everybody else," Samuel said. "I'm worried about the group of guys that we've got in our room and how fast we are. We worry about ourselves. The sky's the limit."
Whether they're the fastest or not, the Panthers have enough speed to create plenty of matchup problems for defenses.
"I think it's a huge advantage," Anderson said. "That's the No. 1 thing DBs are afraid of, is getting beat. Having that as one of my biggest attributes, it allows me to put a lot of fear in corners when they go against me because nobody wants to get beat over the top. So that's going to open up a lot of other things for me on the field."
"There's so much speed in our room — so much speed. You've got guys that can just blaze by you. That's a threat, and that's something that we have to our advantage. When we line up against other teams, against defenses, they know they've got to get running."
Having so much speed gives defenses more to think about because they must account for an unknown element. As Samuel put it, some teams have personnel based on body type, and you know the obvious deep target. The Panthers are different.
"You can't determine where the deep ball is coming from because we've got so many guys that can just run right by you that it keeps the defense guessing who's running deep, who's not running deep," Samuel said. "(W)hoever they matchup on, they've got to get running."
Having more than one deep threat can also open up opportunities for eligible receivers underneath in the tight ends and running backs. That's especially important for a team with Christian McCaffrey in the backfield.
"That opens up the quick passes underneath. And when you've got a guy that presses you, (it opens you up) to go deep," Samuel said. "It opens up so much more when you've got speed because guys start to back up and create that cushion in that space underneath."
No matter how fast the receivers are, they need a quarterback to deliver them accurate passes. Teddy Bridgewater has shown the leadership ability necessary to command the huddle, with both Samuel and Anderson noting how Bridgewater's teammates gravitate toward him. But Bridgewater has also faced criticism for his effectiveness throwing deep. Like head coach Matt Rhule, Samuel is unconcerned with that line of thinking.
"People are going to talk," Samuel said. "All we're going to do is focus and keep going out there each and every day, keep working on what we need to work on, and we're going to do great."
Anderson, who spent his first four season with the Jets, agrees.
"This is probably my first time being around an all-around group like this of athletes," he said. "I played with some very good, great players. But I think all around, this is the best situation I've been in across the board."
And because the Panthers have fast corners like Donte Jackson, Eli Apple and Troy Pride Jr., there's a sense that both sides can improve one another. They likely won't be seeing the same sort of speed from an opponent when the regular season arrives.
"It's a great challenge for us to have receivers like that with that type of speed in practice, because therefore once you get into the season, once we get rolling, you've seen it already," Whitehead said. "I don't think there's too many other guys that have that type of speed, and finesse, and hands."
So for all the sleep Whitehead's losing now, he may be able to rest a bit better in the regular season, knowing he's better prepared to face speed.
View photos from Thursday's practice as the team worked in helmets and shells.