Ejiro Evero has seen "great improvement" in early offseason program

Ejiro Evero

CHARLOTTE – Ejiro Evero has already covered a chunk of ground through the early offseason program.

He brought a new scheme from the Broncos to the Panthers, heralding the transition from a 4-3 to 3-4 base defense. And from the start of voluntary veteran camp to the conclusion of rookie minicamp ahead of next week's OTA opener, Evero has watched it get better.

"We've seen great improvement from the first day of that first time going on the field for veteran minicamp until now," Evero said to reporters in a Tuesday press conference. "We're just going to continue to push through and get better, players and coaches."

Through the transition, Carolina has also been hunting for a dominant pass rusher to complement two-time Pro Bowler Brian Burns, who is on the sidelines as he recovers from offseason ankle surgery. Burns is expected to recover fully in time for training camp.

After the draft, head coach Frank Reich appeared confident the Panthers had found an answer opposite Burns. Among the options on the roster are Marquis Haynes Sr., Yetur Gross-Matos, and rookie DJ Johnson.

Evero stressed that he wasn't too concerned about finding the exact answer yet, answering questions with the awareness that he's installing a new scheme at Carolina, and OTAs haven't even started yet.

"These guys are doing a lot of different things, technically and fundamentally, than they've done in the past," Evero said. "And we're really just focused in on that. We're not worried about depth charts or anything like that. We're just trying to get better.

"And it really doesn't matter. Even if you're a solidified guy, like Brian Burns and (Jaycee Horn), or somebody that's trying to fight to make the team, the only thing that we can control is just getting better and being the best version of ourselves. So that's all we're emphasizing and working on. As we work through, those things will sort itself out."

Evero mentioned he was impressed by Gross-Matos' development through the offseason program, as the former second-round pick looks to make an impact in his fourth year in the NFL.

"Just like a lot of our guys and most of our guys, from the first day we were on the field to now, we've really seen a lot of growth," Evero said of Gross-Matos. "And he'll continue to work through it. But we're really happy with the progress he's making."

As for his evaluation of Johnson, Evero said he had the size, speed, and intelligence they were looking for at the position – positive remarks for a rookie who he knows will need to adapt to professional football after spending six years in college.

And when posed a "pecking order" question about the edge rushers, Evero outlined a distinction between the obvious group leader and the players around him.

"We've got Mr. Burns," Evero said. "And then we've got a bunch of guys that are fighting and clawing and doing a heck of a job."

– Evero declined to veer into specifics on how they'll utilize Jeremy Chinn in the new defense. Chinn's a safety with the ability to play closer to the line of scrimmage and act like a linebacker. Evero said he wanted to prioritize playing time for Chinn as a player who can "do a lot of different things."

"We think very highly of him," Evero said. "I think he's a heck of a player. He's a weapon that we're definitely going to try to utilize. And I know he's an asset for us to have."

Thomas Brown will play an active role in his first year as an NFL offensive coordinator.

He confirmed Tuesday that he'd be coaching from the sideline this season while Reich assumes play-calling duties as he did with the Colts.

Brown also dove into the collaboration between offensive-minded Reich and himself regarding the playbook. He said the two discussed both systems – the one Reich implemented at Indianapolis and the one Brown helped establish under Sean McVay with the Rams – breaking them down to "bare roots" to build back into Carolina's system.

Brown estimated the split between Reich's background and his own ended up being around 60-40, though the level of influence varied between certain packages and personnel groupings.

"It's been going well," Brown said of the offensive instruction through the early parts of their offseason program. "We'll kind of go into next week OTA-wise, our third time going through the same install – a lot of carryover for our players, but it's been good so far."

– Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor emphasized "open competition" across his units, including at the punt and kickoff return spots.

He's familiar with free agent acquisition Damiere Byrd, who he referred to as "Byrd-man" in Tuesday's press conference. The two were together in Chicago in 2021.

Byrd was a return specialist at Carolina from 2015-18, and his 103-yard kickoff return touchdown in 2017 remains a team record.

"He's a really good football player; glad he's on our roster," Tabor said. "But there's a lot of other guys on our roster also that I feel good about. … Right now, my time is just to help them develop.

"Today's May 16, and I just have to try to hopefully give them some tools and keep helping them so that when we get to training camp, they're playing and fighting for jobs. The more competition you have, the better. That shows that you like your roster."

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