CHARLOTTE — After a unique training camp, Panthers' players have just one more practice to make an impression before rosters must be reduced by Saturday at 4 p.m. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady, defensive coordinator Phil Snow, and special teams coordinator Chase Blackburn each addressed the media at length on Thursday, giving assessments of their respective units.
While Blackburn is one of the few returning coaches on the 2020 staff, Brady and Snow both had to spend a lot of time familiarizing themselves with Carolina's personnel. For Brady, that meant moving players around to study them, maximizing each rep.
"I think every play in practice — whether it's a 'call it' period, whether it's scripted — it's intentional. You're just trying to learn the strengths of your players," Brady said. "I think that's really the only way that you can go about it."
And for the players, they also needed time to get to know their coaches.
"Most of my dealings with them are about football. But I also like to find out who they are, sit down and visit with them and know a little bit about their life," Snow said.
Even though Blackburn had been around Carolina's players much more than his colleagues when camp began, he described his experience with head coach Matt Rhule as "eye-opening."
"Even the way he's structured practice to compete right away … that's really awesome," Blackburn said. "The guys have really bought in as a whole, and I think it's going to take us a long way."
Here are some more highlights from each of the coordinators on Thursday:
ROOKIE DEFENDERS TO CONTRIBUTE
Each of the Panthers' top four 2020 draft picks is at least competing for a starting role on the team's defense. The first, defensive tackle Derrick Brown, has been "exactly what we thought he would be," according to Snow. Not only has Brown done well against the run, but he's also displayed a knack for pushing the pocket up the middle.
"A lot of the people we play, they're getting rid of the football really quickly," Snow said. "What you need inside is, you don't need to sack the quarterback. You need to put pressure and affect the way they throw."
As far as second-round pick Yetur Gross-Matos goes, Snow believes the 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive end makes for a tough matchup.
"He can really bend the corner for a really big person," Snow said. "I think he's got a really bright future in football."
Meanwhile, safety Jeremy Chinn's high football IQ has been a pleasant surprise to Snow, who figures the second-rounder should continue to improve throughout the season. Chinn will play multiple spots on defense, some of which will be dictated by the Panthers' opponent.
"I think you'll enjoy watching Jeremy play," Snow said.
Finally, fourth-round cornerback Troy Pride Jr. is competing for a starting role opposite Donte Jackson. Snow also mentioned Eli Apple by name as a player in the competition.
"Troy can run," Snow said. "He's getting better every day."
Running back Christian McCaffrey's touches have been discussed throughout the offseason, as he led the league by far with 403 last year. But Brady didn't indicate a reduction is coming.
"I don't think the amount he had last year was a ridiculous amount of touches — I don't. I think he was on course with a player of his caliber with touches," Brady said. "Now, it might more so be when he's getting those touches and how he's getting those touches.
"But at the end of the day, we want to win football games, and that's the most important thing to him and to us. And I know when the ball's in his hands, he gives us a great opportunity to win. So we'll cross that path game by game."
Brady added that getting to work with McCaffrey in person has revealed the running back is even better than Brady thought.
Also at running back, Brady echoed Rhule's recent positive comments about backup Mike Davis.
"He came in focused, he came in in shape and ready to go, and I think he's taken off from that," Brady said.
On the outside, Brady is obviously excited to work with his speedy top three receivers in DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Robby Anderson.
"There's not many coaches that are fortunate to have … at least three wide receivers at any given play we feel confident getting the ball to," Brady said. "They all bring different strengths to our offense, and it's my job and our coaches have to put them in positions to have that success."
Because those three are so versatile, the Panthers have plenty of options to keep a defense off-balance during a possession.
"When we're fortunate to be able to line up in the same formation for five straight plays and be able to call five different plays to get three receivers the ball and not have to move them around, it makes our lives a lot easier," Brady said.
KICKING, PUNTING, AND RETURNING
Kaare Vedvik isn't the first combination kicker/punter that Blackburn has coached. But Vedvik has been particularly effective at both kicking methods, putting him in competition with kicker Joey Slye and punter Joseph Charlton. Blackburn pointed out both Charlton and Vedvik will compete during Friday's practice, suggesting the battle for that role could be close.
"Both have their ups and downs, but every day they get better, improve," Blackburn said. "Two guys that are really competitive and focus on the details and want to perfect their craft, which, as a coach, is all you can ever ask."
Blackburn also claimed it's still an open competition at returner, though he mentioned 2017 All-Pro returner Pharoh Cooper as a standout.
"Pharoh's done unbelievable back there," Blackburn said. "He's a joy to be around. He just loves football and loves to compete, so he's done an excellent job."
STEPPING UP, GETTING BETTER
Snow was asked about two players who many hope will take a significant step forward in 2020: Jackson and defensive end Brian Burns.
Jackson is slated to be the Panthers' top corner after he was limited to 10 starts last season.
"Donte has really good physical abilities. He's really quick and fast — and he's tough. If you watch him, he's physical," Snow said. "He has a lot of the qualities to be an exceptional player at this level, and I think he's taking his craft much more seriously right now. And I can see it on tape."
Snow is also expecting "big things" from Burns, whose rookie year was tarnished by a wrist injury suffered in Week 4.
"I had a long talk with Brian the other day," Snow said. "He can really move. He's long. And he's another guy that's really bright. He really understands football.
"He's a first-round draft pick, and he should play like one. He has the physical abilities, and I'm looking forward to watching him all season."
BRADY AND BRIDGEWATER
Long before they worked together in New Orleans, Brady knew of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater because both hail from South Florida. So Brady reached for his phone when he saw Bridgewater's tweet this past weekend acknowledging the four-year anniversary of his career-threatening knee injury.
"I texted him the other day because I thought it was awesome," Brady said. "I think he thinks about that stuff daily. He understands what his purpose is. And when you see him on the football field, you know how much football means to him because it was taken away from him."
View photos from Thursday morning practice as the Panthers prepare to trim the roster to 53 players on Saturday.