CHARLOTTE — Derrick Brown's been working hard all week. So don't judge him if he ends up with some fast food chicken nuggets or a rack of ribs from his grill the next couple of days.
He jokes about it, but the Panthers defensive tackle has been more intentional about his physical conditioning this offseason, and the results are showing.
He's down to about 320 pounds, and make no mistake, that's still incredibly large.
But he was over 330 last year, and dropping a little weight was mostly for his football career, but had the side benefit of slimming him down (and at 320, everything's relative) for his wedding photos this spring.
"I didn't want to be too thick in the suit," Brown said with a laugh.
That goal accomplished, the former first-round pick is now trying to cut a more imposing figure on the field. Brown had an up-and-down second season (which included a one-game benching in Miami), but has shown a determination to become more of a force this year.
"I can really tell because he's moving faster," defensive end Brian Burns said. "He was always pretty fast for a big guy, but he's moving faster. He looks a little more nimble, and that's kind of weird for a guy that's 6-5, 320 or three-whatever-he-is. But I can tell."
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule noticed the difference as well.
"He's really stepped up in terms of his progress and development this offseason," Rhule said. "He came here to OTAs in shape. He worked out here for a long time. Has made a lot of great changes to his diet.
"I can't tell you what they are. He just looks good. He's leaned out. He's moving really well right now and playing really well."
Brown said much of it has been a function of a smarter diet, and less fast food. He'll usually get talked into the Chick-fil-A drive-through with his young son on the way to preschool on a Friday — "Daddy, chicken nuggets, is what I hear," he said — but those trips are rare.
"I try to eat clean five days out of the week. But my weekends, that's my weekends," he said. "I refuse to go cold turkey, and I told my wife that, too. I might gain a little weight between Friday and Sunday, but on Monday, I'll be all right."
Becoming more than all right is the ultimate goal. The Panthers are going to have to adjust the way they play defense this offseason (after losing edge rusher Haason Reddick in free agency), so getting more out of Brown and the addition of interior-rushing defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis will be key to taking up some of the slack.
That means becoming the kind of force he was at Auburn, and the kind of player the Panthers invested a top-10 pick in. They also hope the addition of veteran line coach Paul Pasqualoni will help Brown become a more detailed player, which will also help.
"Derrick has just been awesome, he's just been like a sponge," Pasqualoni said. "Listens to every little thing you say. Goes out and tries to do just what you're asking him to do."
And since there's a little bit less of him now, the Panthers are hoping to get more on the field. He had two sacks as a rookie and three last year, but even at Auburn, Brown was the kind of player who could collapse pockets without getting sacks himself. If he can do that this year, with Ioannidis on one side and Burns on the other, that would help the defense as a whole.
"It's about taking the next step," Brown said of his goals for the year. "Just kind of getting back to some of the things I did in college.
"Just never being tired and hustling everywhere, get to where I can be to make an impact, and just keep doing those things."
And looking better in the suit can't hurt.
View photos from all the action at the Panthers OTAs workout on Thursday, May 26, 2022.