CHARLOTTE — For a former first-round pick entering his fifth season, cornerback Eli Apple has bounced around. After the Giants selected him with their 10th overall pick in the 2016 draft, Apple started 18 games in his first two seasons. But in late October 2018, the Saints acquired Apple in exchange for fourth- and seventh-round picks.
At the time, the Giants and Saints had nearly opposite records and were going down two vastly different paths. New York was 1-6. New Orleans was 5-1.
"Going to New Orleans, they were rolling. I went from a team that had one win to a team that had a bunch, so there was definitely a difference with that," Apple said Monday.
Though he started 25 games for the Saints between 2018 and 2019, Apple was not re-signed this spring. He suffered an ankle injury late last season that landed him on injured reserve and unable to play in the postseason.
Now on a one-year deal with Carolina, Apple sees this as a fresh start to his career.
Apple was drawn to the Panthers in part because of the team's history of playing strong defense. But he also liked the idea of playing under head coach Matt Rhule, given what the cornerback knew of Rhule from Temple and Baylor.
"He's a fiery coach, has great energy out there on the field. He's everywhere, and he demands perfection like he should," Apple said. "I feel like he's a great person and great leader."
Now that he's in the building, Apple also likes coordinator Phil Snow's defensive system and believes Snow's aggressive nature as a coach and schemer suits him well.
"I'm a tall, rangy, fast corner. Very physical, especially in press coverage. I pride myself on getting hands on (receivers) and disrupting routes," Apple said. "I feel like with those skills, I can fit in, and I'll definitely be a great piece to this defense."
Though he just turned 25 on Sunday, Apple's experience makes him feel like "an elder" on the field. Because the Panthers are a young team, he realizes he needs to be a veteran voice in the cornerbacks' room. Apple's time in the NFC South should also help a club with limited practice time and no preseason games.
"Teams in the division, you want to learn those tendencies and progressions and routes," Apple said. "I'm just trying to be someone that they can talk to about stuff like that because I do have experience."
Because of that experience, Apple presumably has a leg up on the competition to start opposite Donte Jackson. Apple has enjoyed getting to know Jackson, noting they've been able to help one another improve.
"It's been great. He's very smart, quick, and fast," Apple said. "He plays a lot different than I do, so I just try to pick his brain on stuff and tell him what I see out there, too."
And when asked about Apple last week, Jackson said:
"He's seen a lot in this league, so he has a clear understanding of what can happen at what time. We're creating a good bond. I rock with Eli. He's a good dude."
As this modified 2020 training camp continues, Apple's emergence as a starter could pay significant dividends. Using his experience from multiple teams, Apple is a potential veteran leader for a young secondary.
"I feel like I've seen so much, and I've been through a lot — more than the normal guy would," Apple said. "I've been traded, I've been on teams that were really good and teams that were really bad, so I've seen it all. I've seen every side of, I feel like, the league.
"So I feel like there's a lot of experience with that and now it's just about going about my business and doing it at a high level."
View photos from Monday's session outside and inside the Atrium Health Dome.