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Current and former players were picking up the Dan Morgan-Dave Canales vibe on Thursday

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CHARLOTTE — It's February, so there are only so many football players around Bank of America Stadium.

But it felt somewhat symbolic that on the day new GM Dan Morgan and head coach Dave Canales laid out their vision for the future, the bulk of the players who were on hand were offensive linemen.

Partly, that's because a few of them were rehabbing some old injuries. But it's also instructive that the last time the Panthers had a real personality on the field, it was when they were running behind guys like Ikem Ekwonu and Austin Corbett and Brady Christensen in 2022. So for Morgan and Canales to talk about creating a culture it caught their attention for sure.

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"I was just kind of nodding my head in agreement there," the veteran guard said. "In the NFL, the athletic skill level is so high that you're going to have to find the advantages somewhere else because everybody has the same talent, everybody's fast, everybody's strong.

"And so it's going to be the mental game of I have to break you in this game. It might not happen the first, second, or third, but it's going to happen at some point in the game for my willpower to beat you, to get my block to win. My gap is going to happen, receivers to get open, running backs to bring your own blocker and make somebody miss, and get it done.

"It's that mentality, every single play."

The press conference itself was shorter on specifics than it was on feelings, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The Panthers went 2-15 last season. A shot of energy is what they need, along with better players and a more coherent scheme.

There was also something familiar about it for former players in the crowd.

Guys like Mike Rucker and Muhsin Muhammad were here with Morgan in 2001 when the Panthers went 1-15, leading to the coaching change that brought John Fox to Carolina. And they also started alongside him two years later when they made the Super Bowl.

The roster wasn't that different in just two seasons, but the results were.

So when Canales talked about maximizing the players on hand, that sounded familiar to the Hall of Honor wide receiver.

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"It's interesting, when Foxy came in, we had meetings with him, one-on-ones," Muhammad recalled. "He sat down with every single player, and one of the things I remember from that meeting with Foxy, he said, you know, you've got blue chip players, and then you got blue chip play, right? And the ability to maximize everyone's potential will allow you to take a blue chip player and get blue chip play out of him.

"So I think that that run that we went on, it wasn't so much about an overhaul, we need to scrap the whole thing and everything is wrong. There were tweaks. And after 1-15 you go 7-9 and almost make the playoffs.

"But, Super Bowl the next year, so the biggest changes were that came from within. We had the components of success, but we weren't playing at the level we needed to play, and that's going to be the job here. So how, how do you identify those key contributors and get them to play better than they played before?"

Rucker also remembered Fox's "smart and tough" mantra and said you could see the difference in a team that won a single game the year before almost instantly.

"To be honest with you, I saw it really quick," Rucker said of the pivot from 2001 to 2003. "I just remember vividly, and this is one thing that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Coach Fox said I want smart, and I want tough. It's real simple, right? We don't need to make things complicated. Smart, you know, make smart plays, right? Am I doing a bonehead thing that is costing our team a penalty? Am I not securing the ball? Those things are smart and they're tough.

"You can't teach toughness, right? Either I'm going to be physical, or I'm not. And it's real simple. And so that's something that was part of my DNA that I bought into right away. I was like, I might not be the most athletic or the most talented, but I know I can be smart because I can control that, and I know I can be tough, and I can control that. And so if you start with those two things, now, the sky is the limit."

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When Fox took over, creating the belief was a significant part of his mission.

That's why when Canales was selling hope built on specifics like ball security and turning it over on defense, he found a receptive audience in the current and former players in the room.

The energy coming from the new coach was palpable.

"It's just incredible," Corbett said. "That's contagious, and you can tell it's not fake either. I think that's the biggest thing with somebody that comes in that's full of energy, full of passion.

"It's very easy to see through it if it's fake and he is completely sincere, and it's true, and that's exactly who he is. And from guys I've talked to around the league who have been with him, that's exactly who he is."

Take a look at photos from Dan Morgan and Dave Canales' introductory press conference.

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