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Combine notebook: Panthers near top in NFLPA team report cards

Kevin King

INDIANAPOLIS – The Panthers finished toward the top of the pack in the NFLPA's first team report card, released this week.

Carolina finished 12th out of 32 teams in a cumulative tally of eight categories, and received at least an A in three sections – treatment of families, strength coaches, and training staff.

The union surveyed 1,300 players across the league to grade teams on aspects of their daily experience "away from the lights and cameras," according to the NFLPA's website.

The Panthers' training staff tied for first place with an A+ rating. Players rated the group "very highly," believing they "significantly add to their personal success," according to the survey. 

Carolina also received an A for treatment of families, tied for second in the league. The Panthers' post-game gathering area ranks third, and they rank fourth in support of players' families, offering a family room and daycare. 

The Panthers fell within the top half of the league in four other topics – locker room (tied-10th), strength coaches (tied-10th), training room (tied-12th), and team travel (tied-12th). 

The survey noted "recent investment into areas of the (Panthers') facility," including the Panthers' locker room, and also lauded the hiring of new head coach Frank Reich, rated as one of the most player-friendly and respected coaches in the NFL by Colts' players last year.

Cam Smith

– In his Thursday press conference in Indianapolis, cornerback Cam Smith, a University of South Carolina product from Blythewood, S.C., said he has recently leaned on former Gamecocks teammate and current Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn for advice. 

"I called him right before I got on the plane to go to Indy," Smith said of Horn. "He was just telling me like, 'Just stay calm. They're going to ask questions about some hard things and stuff like that; you just got to answer them and stay calm.'" 

Smith was a four-year defensive back at South Carolina, mainly a cornerback who played some snaps at nickel. He played a key role against fellow 2023 draft prospect and combine invitee Jalin Hyatt, limiting the Tennessee receiver to 65 yards on six catches when he averaged 105.6 yards per game this season.

Jordan Battle

– Alabama safety Jordan Battle called back to some of his earliest days on the football field when asked about his production during Thursday's interview sessions with the media. 

Battle, a four-year defensive back for the Crimson Tide, brought three of his six career interceptions back for touchdowns in college.

"Every time I get the ball in my hands, I just think about little-league me, because that was the last time I played offense," Battle said. "I get the ball in my hands, I just want to score. I haven't played running back since about 10 years old. That was the last time I won the Super Bowl with my dad, (in) little league. So when I get the ball in my hands, I like to showcase my skills with the ball. Getting in the end zone is always the goal."

Christian Gonzalez

– Oregon cornerback prospect Christian Gonzalez, predicted by some to go in the first round of this year's draft, pitched his attributes in his press conference Thursday. 

The 6-foot-1, 197-pound Colorado totaled four interceptions and seven pass breakups in a breakout 2022 season at Oregon.

"I'm a long, speedy, versatile corner," Gonzalez said. "Somebody that can line up on the outside guarding a 6-5 receiver, and line up inside and can guard a 5-10 speedy type of receiver. (I'm) able to be a smart player, learn very quickly, and just able to change any type of way (for) the person I'm going against."

View photos of head coach Frank Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer from their press conferences and interviews with the media at the Combine on Wednesday.

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