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For Dave Canales, his first practice was one to remember

Dave Canales, Ejiro Evero

CHARLOTTE — There were already several dozen players out there when new Panthers head coach Dave Canales walked onto his practice field for the first time at 11:11 a.m. Tuesday, as he strolled out alongside defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero.

For a guy who is known for his energy, it was a fairly leisurely pace.

That might have been because he had already been in the office for six and a half hours by that point or had just come off the treadmill, getting a quick workout in before the first official practice of his first voluntary minicamp as a first-time NFL head coach.

"I got to blow the whistle, by the way. So that was cool," Canales said with a grin, showing everyone the kind of prop only a head coach gets to carry around in a pocket. "I don't know if I'll use it again, but I got it; I'm the guy with the whistle. So that was fun."

Canales was clearly enjoying himself and has clearly been enjoying his first lap through his new job here. And when you're having this much fun at work, you can't wait to get started.

That's why Scott Cooper's alarm goes off early, and he's out the door by 4:30 a.m. each day so Canales can start.

Cooper, the director of coaching development and culture and Canales' right-hand man, picks up the coach every morning from their nearby condominium because Canales still doesn't have a car here (it's being shipped in as we speak). They arrive at the stadium around 4:45 a.m. and hit the ground running.

Canales gives off caffeinated energy throughout the day, and you're tempted to suggest that Canales was more excited than usual, but his assistant and coaching operations manager Jessica Beckenstein shook that off.

"No, the same amount," she said. "Always excited."

Dave Canales

But in the moments before his first practice as the guy with the whistle, he went back to one of the traditions of his mentor, Pete Carroll, who used the moments before the work on the practice field to get a quick workout of his own in.

When asked when he realized the moment was upon him, Canales said there was that instant of recognition as he hit the treadmill, applying the lessons Carroll taught him.

"Off and on all day, you know, even just kind of that window, right before we're going to practice," Canales said. "And, that's always been my window to steal a quick workout. As I went into the weight room (in Seattle), Pete would always be in there. He'd be doing bands, he'd be working mobility stuff, stretching a little bit, he'd get his quick, little 15-20-minute workout in.

"And so I walk in there and I start to do my workout and I was just like, you know, it was just an eerie, . . . this was the time where I kind of run into him before we're going out. So one of those and then, just kind of walking around the gate going out there, seeing the guys out there early with jerseys and they're waiting for me to blow the whistle."

Once that whistle blew, the coaching continued at the same pace he had kept since walking in the door long before the sun was up.

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He threw passes with Cooper on the sidelines as players stretched, and then at 11:30 a.m., he called his team together for the first time for a few quick words, breaking with the "Family" that has been a message he's been sharing since he walked in the door. The guy who tries to address every player by name to create that kind of bond then went about the work that will be more defining than any of his personal habits.

He walked quickly between drills. It would be wrong to call it bouncing; it was purposeful. And when he got there, he was very present in each segment he watched. He talks a lot about "maximizing these windows," and he tried to get around to everyone. Having come up as a receivers and quarterbacks coach, he spent a lot of time with center Austin Corbett and quarterback Bryce Young as they worked through their new partnership. But Canales made a point to get to the defense as well, acknowledging that splitting his time among the entire roster was "challenge number one for me."

"I think there's goals, there's focus goals for everybody in practice. And I try to ask the players to have three things you want to get better at today," he said. "So for me, it's like, how much can I see? You know, and today was hard because we're ironing out cadence stuff, you know, Corbett's in there working with Bryce, a lot of communication stuff going on, and I'm like, really hyper-focused on just getting the play snapped and everything on time.

"But that is a challenge for me to continue to try to back my focus up so I can see, OK, started the offensive play as it flows. What was the defensive call as well? Ok. It's this, the safety should be coming down here, you know, and trying to expand my focus. I'm nowhere near where I would like to be on that. So yeah, big challenge."

But he's approaching the job intentionally, as he does all things.

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Canales referenced keeping music on throughout practice, though he's particular about the volume levels. He wants coaches to be able to be heard over the din, so in particular periods, he's happy with the volume being at a 7, but while instructing, it might be at a 3.

So as his players stretched, Outkast's "Roses" was probably at a loud-but-not-obnoxius level, as he walked head-nodding around and shaking hands with players as they began. But when Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" came on during a team period, it was much lower, and the air drums he was playing as players got into position could almost be heard.

He's not in charge of the playlist; he leaves that to Beckenstein and scouting assistant Kaleb Leach with one condition.

"Radio version," he said, acknowledging that his practice field is in the middle of a residential zone, and he wants to make a good first impression on his new neighbors across Cedar Street.

"I'm really trying to look for the culture of what we want at practice," he said of what he hoped to gain from this first workout. "I want guys to have fun. I want them to be focused though, but also enjoy it. And I think what I've seen over the years is guys begin to show their personality more once they feel really confident about what we're doing.

"I like to see the players take over how they break their own group huddles, you know, and they have their handshakes and they have their sayings and I love to see that part of it. Love to see hustle in between drills, and we don't have a lot of drills right now, so there's only really two or three transitions, but I'm looking for the right energy.

"The music's going, not so loud where we can't hear each other, but they always listen to music when they do everything. So let's have music the whole time, you know. So, I'm trying to feel that part like big picture from a coaching standpoint too. We don't need a lot of like walking and reading, you know, like put your script away, coach it, coach it, coach it. Let's have feedback every 30 to 40 seconds and really be engaged with guys."

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There was no doubt Canales was engaged on his first day on the job but also taking a moment to appreciate the little things.

It was Seattle-cool and humidity-free when he walked on the field for the first time. It's not always like that here, as the locals will remind him when it's time for training camp. But the entire thing, the setting, the scene, the music, the temperature, the people — Dave Canales was fired up for the whole thing.

As he bounced into his post-practice press conference — this was a bounce, for sure — he brought his energy to a crowd of reporters documenting his first day.

"Hey, what's happening? Did you enjoy today as much as I did?" he said, his tone cutting the silence as much as his whistle would have.

He talked about the weather ("Perfect") and how he joked with Rock Hill native Jadeveon Clowney about the local conditions.

But mostly, he was there for the football, and he liked that part while still appreciating the moment for what it was — his first time.

"Of course, for me, just my first practice as a head coach," he said before calling back to his actual first practice in charge of the freshman team at Carson High School, where they also wore black and blue uniforms.

"We're out in the blue jerseys and it's just kind of like a, you know, pinch-yourself kind of moment," Canales said. "And so surreal for sure, but again, to do it with some guys that I have familiarity with, I saw a lot of proud big brother looks from some of the guys. And then, to be able to be out there with, Ejiro and the defensive guys and bringing this whole thing together, certainly it was a really cool day for me."

And, he hopes, the first of many.

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