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Carolina Panthers

Veterans get a chance at a new perspective

Christian McCaffrey

CHARLOTTE – Shaq Thompson may not have been wearing his jersey on the Panthers' first day of mandatory minicamp, but the eight-year veteran wants you to know he didn't get an off day.

Thompson and several of Carolina's more experienced players, including Christian McCaffrey, Taylor Moton, Austin Corbett, Donte Jackson, DJ Moore, Brian Burns — and a few other younger starters — didn't go through the regular motions of minicamp. Instead, they were coaches for the day.

"We've got to get them up to our level," Thompson said. "Once that happens, the sky's the limit."

Veteran Panthers could be found along the sidelines during drills, offering constructive criticism and watching over their position groups.

Rhule said players who didn't practice Tuesday likely won't participate on the field for the next two days of mandatory minicamp. The changes in roles were for various reasons. Some had strong OTA showings, while others are coming off injuries or getting more rest after seeing a lot of snaps last season. (Load management will be part of McCaffrey's experience this year, and while that's unusual for him, it still takes some getting used to.)

But it wasn't just a one-day change; Thompson said the new roles played into head coach Matt Rhule's philosophy, which gives more agency to the players this season.

"Rhule definitely wants us to be a player-driven team," Thompson said. "He's letting us do a lot more, letting us control a lot more."

Rhule admitted he sees much of his "player-driven" philosophy manifesting in the Panthers' locker room conversations and team culture.

It started during the first week of OTAs, when Rhule took a group of 10 veterans to a local steakhouse, and posed a question: "What kind of team are we going to be?"

From there, players flooded into Rhule's office wanting to set the tone themselves.

"Guys like Shaq came in to meet with me and was like, 'Coach, turn it over to us. We'll do it,'" Rhule said. "They want it. I want them to do it. To me, it's a wonderful thing."

Flash forward to minicamp, and Rhule sees a two-part benefit to adjusting some veterans' roles.

For one, rookies and less-experienced players get more chances to make an impression. Team leaders also catch a glimpse into what a minicamp is like from a coach's perspective, which Rhule said he made deliberately tough by pumping in crowd noise on the practice field.

Matt Rhule, Shaq Thompson

"I'm not giving anyone off and saying 'Hey, go home,'" Rhule said. "I'm just changing their role and asking guys to coach."

Rhule has watched Thompson take on a leadership role throughout OTAs, specifically guiding rookie linebackers Brandon Smith and Isaiah Graham-Mobley.

For Thompson, he knows the defense. He knows the Panthers' standards. Now, he's sharing that knowledge with younger teammates.

"On the field, you have guys like Shaq, who've played a lot of football, but guys listen to them," Rhule said. "It's good for him, and I think it's good for the players."

The temporary coaching roles will likely remain a positive for those veterans and Rhule throughout the next two days of Carolina's mandatory minicamp. Just don't call them off days.

Check out practice photos from the first day of minicamp on Tuesday.

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