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Jaycee Horn ready to practice, and earn respect again

Shaq Thompson, Jaycee Horn

SPARTANBURG — Since Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn knows it's the first question, yes, he plans to be on the practice field tomorrow.

After that, his next goal is to help get the secondary, and team in general, get back to a place of respect.

Horn said Tuesday morning he was cleared to go from the start of camp after missing the end of OTAs and minicamp with a foot and ankle issue. He didn't want to delve into the details of the issue beyond saying he was ready now.

"I don't want to talk about the injury," he said. "What matters is I'm here, and I'm ready to go and focused on getting ready for the season."

The 2021 first-round pick missed most of his rookie season with a broken foot (not the same one he dealt with this offseason), and missed the playoff-deciding Tampa Bay game last year after breaking his wrist the week before against the Lions. If the Panthers won that game, he planned to cast it up and play in the finale against the Saints, but with the team eliminated after the loss to Tom Brady and the Bucs, he didn't.

He's aware of his importance to the defense and said that motivates him to continue to hone his offseason routines, including his own nutrition plan.

"Even if I felt like I was taking care of my body before, doing more," he said. "Just trying to be available the whole season. Seeing how much it hurt us last year, going out at a crucial time, I understand what's at stake this year. I want to take every measure to make sure I'm out there on Sundays."

At another point in the press conference, Horn said that if fans had questions about his injury history, they don't appreciate his own level of frustration.

"It's just understanding that you can't control it," he said. "It's always a lot of talk when a player goes down about him being injury-prone or whatever, and I don't think people understand it. The player doesn't want to be hurt. He's more upset than you, with him being hurt.

"It's just staying focused on the next day, keep striving to be better."

The reason the injuries in general and the Bucs game last year in particular haunts him, and many others, is that Brady attacked an area of the defense that was depleted and capable of much more when healthy. Fellow starting corner Donte Jackson was out with a torn Achilles, but both are expected to be ready in some capacity when they take the field for the first time Wednesday morning.

Their absences during the offseason program complicated the adjustment to a new defense, with coordinator Ejiro Evero coming in with an entirely new staff. Coupled with the free agent addition of safety Vonn Bell and incumbent Jeremy Chinn working mostly at nickel, it has been an offseason of change.

Horn got to work on the field early in OTAs and said he liked what he saw.

Jaycee Horn

"I was out there for the first part of OTAs and got some on-field work; right before I went down, I was starting to feel real comfortable in the system," he said. "And we've got a good two and a half or three weeks here, so I'll get it picked back up and be ready to go in Week 1.

"It was kind of weird, not having Jack out there, and a lot of new guys coming in, like Vonn, Chinn working a new position or whatever. But you've got camp to get it right and be ready for Week 1."

Horn was especially enthusiastic about Bell's arrival, as the former Bengals safety gives them another knowledgeable veteran alongside Xavier Woods, allowing them to move Chinn around.

"Super big. Super big," Horn said with a nod when asked about the addition of Bell. "Him and X paired together is like two professors. We call X 'Professor X,' and now that Vonn's here, he's another level too. For me, it's extremely big having two guys you can trust behind you.

"Vonn put me on so much game, seeing how much of a professional he is, how he takes care of his body every day, how he's in the film room, how he knows the playbook. It's something big for a guy to pick up on and follow in his footsteps."

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Training Camp Open Practices

The Panthers will host Training Camp at the Carolina Panthers Practice Fields in Charlotte (705 W. 4th Street, Charlotte, NC 28202) starting Wednesday, July 24.

Featuring 14 free practices open to the public, each practice will include interactive fan activities, concessions, and the opportunity for player autographs after practice.

When healthy, Horn and Jackson are clearly guys who can make plays. And with the additions, Horn thinks this secondary has a chance to prove some things in a division that is in its usual state of flux. The Saints have a new quarterback in Derek Carr, and the Falcons and Bucs are each going through transitions at the position, so it's easy to view the Panthers as being in a position to gain some ground after missing the playoffs the last five seasons.

"I feel like we don't have a lot of respect as an organization right now," Horn said. "So I feel like going into Year 3, I'm just so focused on the team and us winning and getting our respect around this league. . . .

"Obviously, it's a huge opportunity for us to win a division and make some noise. But these are the days that matter. No matter what we've got on paper, the number one pick (in quarterback Bryce Young), all these defensive acquisitions, it don't matter if you don't put in the work. So we're going to do that in the next couple of weeks.

"I think camaraderie as a team, one, that's the biggest thing we want to get out of camp. Just figuring each other out, in the back end especially. Figuring out guys' strengths and weaknesses, what you can do with this person behind you, as opposed to another person covering you. It's a lot we've got to work out, but we've got to get it worked out in these next few weeks."

And being on the field and able to is a big first step.

View photos of the Panthers as they move in at Wofford for training camp this year.

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