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Getting used to a new look

Jeremy Chinn, Donte Jackson, Jaycee Horn

CHARLOTTE — Make no mistake, Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero has a philosophy.

But he's also smart enough to know how to adjust and has over the years.

So when he came to the Panthers and got a look at his personnel, he had new ideas about how he wanted to play this thing.

"That's always the focus; you look at the guys you have, and you try to put them in the best position to be successful," Evero said Thursday. "And that's why I'm such an advocate; it's not about any system.

"It's about, hey, you first start off with your players, what do your players do? Well, fit them into that and play from there."

In the case of the Panthers defense he came here to lead, it starts in the back. He took a job with a couple of high-end cover corners in Jaycee Horn and Donte Jackson, and they signed a second smart safety in Vonn Bell to go with Xavier Woods, allowing Evero to create a role for a versatile hybrid player like Jeremy Chinn.

There were questions about the front seven, and some of them remain, but the members of the secondary know there's going to be a burden on them this year, and they're fine with that.

"We definitely haven't put our best work on the field yet," Horn said. "So it's going to be, you know, an eye-opener for everybody Sunday when we all go out there together."

Ejiro Evero

Of course, part of that was by design. The Panthers didn't see much from their front seven in the preseason, leaving some mystery about what they want to do on defense. Head coach Frank Reich laughed last week when asked about that, replying: "Good. Mission accomplished."

But even with all the people accounted for on the practice field Thursday, there is still plenty that's not known about the way they're going to line up, and that's by design.

Horn said that, unlike times in the past, the defensive backs in this defense try to stay put until the moment of the snap, offering no clues to the opposing quarterback about what the coverage might be. It requires a certain physical talent not to get a head start, but the Panthers have those kinds of defensive backs anyway. Horn said he picked up on a bit as he went back and watched Broncos tape from last year, noticing some of the tendencies Evero would teach here.

"I watched a lot of Broncos tape, and just seeing those guys, how their safeties play, how their corners play, I was already excited when I heard that we were getting coach and he was coming in. So it's definitely, you know, a good fit," Horn said. "Everything is really out of a shell, not many tells or pre(-snap) things. It was just on the snap; everything happened.

"So that just kind of messes up the offense when, you know, a defense moves like that."

Jackson described it as "very corner-friendly."

"It's just like helping us play faster," Jackson said. "You never really know what you're going to get and when you're going to get it. But if you're a corner, whenever you can have your cleats in the ground ready to go, it's always a plus, right?"

Offenses (think Sean McVay's Rams) will often try to give a defense more information to process at the line of scrimmage with motion and formations. New Panthers offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, who came from Los Angeles, calls it "the illusion of complexity."

This is kind of the opposite, as the lack of pre-snap information can hide intent.

Coupled with some guys with multiple roles (like Chinn), there's the opportunity to do a lot of different things, as long as they're buttoned up.

Jackson said he picked up on the possibility from Evero's first meeting when he laid out the roles and responsibilities in a way that got everyone's attention. He recalled that meeting as "very detail-oriented and fiery." It helps that a year ago, the Broncos were a top-10 defense without a wealth of name-recognition on that side of the ball.

"Just his personality kind of got everybody bought-in for real," Jackson said of Evero. "And then once you go to learning your scheme, actually learning your job, then you kind of see the light.

"It's like, oh yeah, this actually can be nice. This could actually be crazy. So that kind of helps you buy in even more for us."

Again, asking corners to play a lot of man demands that they can actually do it, but the Panthers have the talent to match up.

"We are guys that pride ourselves on being cover guys," Horn said. "So we get the opportunity to do that in his defense. . . .

"So, you know, everybody's loving the defense."

There's still plenty for them to prove, and Sunday's game against the Falcons will be a different challenge since Atlanta has a reputation for being able to run and enough versatile personnel such as Bijan Robinson and Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts to create matchup issues.

But with what the Panthers have shown this preseason — again, not much — Evero likes having a talented secondary and experience throughout the defense. So, playing very generic defenses in the preseason doesn't bother him a bit.

"Once you get to the games, the regular season, so much of it is game-plan specific," Evero said. "And, I feel really, really good about the foundation that we built in the offseason and in training camp. And, at the end of the day, you've got to go play football. And I feel like we're in a good position to do that."

View photos of the Panthers' practice on Thursday.

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