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Laviska Shenault Jr. finding himself, gaining confidence from new staff

Laviska Shenault

SPARTANBURG – Laviska Shenault Jr. is angry.

Don't be mistaken; it wasn't the first descriptor the fourth-year wide receiver mentioned while teasing what he expected to show in the Panthers' new offense. He started out with "fun, explosive, hungry, determined." 

But by rounding out a list of five adjectives (an apt amount to match his new No. 5 jersey) with such a strong term, Shenault sent a message – not to those on the outside, but to himself.

"I don't like talking about my past and stuff," Shenault said after Thursday's practice. "But I just know before I came into the league, I said I wasn't going to allow some things, and I allowed those things. So I'm mad at myself. I'm angry. So I'm out here doing what I need to do – what I've got to do – being more of a pro."

Laviska Shenault

Circumstances haven't always created the perfect situations for Shenault. To point out the obvious, the 24-year-old is going into his fourth NFL season under his seventh head coach. 

Shenault's career began in 2020 on a 1-15 Jaguars squad under Doug Marrone. In 2021, his best statistical season, Urban Meyer coached him for 13 weeks before Jacksonville brought in interim Darrell Bevell.

He went through last year's training camp with Doug Pederson before the Jaguars traded him to Carolina for seventh- and sixth-round picks in late August. Once he got here, Shenault spent five weeks under Matt Rhule ahead of Steve Wilks' interim tenure. 

It took a toll on Shenault, who acknowledged his personal morale took a hit through the shuffle.

"I feel like I lost a little bit of my confidence," Shenault said. "Just over a period of time, and all the things I've been through." 

Could Frank Reich be Shenault's lucky number seven? After a hot training camp practice on Thursday, Shenault said he liked the energy so far. 

"I've been in the league going on my fourth year now; I've done been through a new coaching staff every year," Shenault said. "And I feel like I've been able to see just how different every coaching group was. And this is different. The feeling is different."

Laviska Shenault

Shenault said he felt like he had been limited throughout the first three seasons of his professional career – particularly last year with the Panthers. He said learning the playbook on "late notice" was a challenging hurdle to clear, and his lowest statistical output (419 all-purpose yards on 27 catches, nine carries, and three kickoff returns) would reflect that. 

When Shenault flashed last year, he was bright. He scored on a 67-yard screen in his Panthers' debut, caught a swing pass for a 41-yard touchdown against the Falcons, and brought back a 36-yard kickoff return in his first season as a Panther. 

Once he got the ball in his hands, Shenault used his 6-foot-1, 220-pound frame to his advantage, using athleticism and speed to gain valuable yards after the catch. 

But Shenault said he liked how the Panthers don't intend to keep him in that bubble. 

"His skill set is more than what we've seen out of him in the past," general manager Scott Fitterer said. "He can run routes. He's not just like a swing screen guy, where you take it and run with it. You want to get him on slants; you can get him over on deep overs, and get the ball quick and let him run over guys. You might be able to do some other things with him. I think Frank's looking into it." 

It's Shenault's physical traits, like his size, skill, and running ability, which have prompted Reich to seek out different ways to deploy him in his offense. And the plan doesn't have to be finalized immediately.

"We do think Laviska is a guy that can be versatile," Reich said. "I think, as an offensive staff, we've all had experience with guys that we've had, right? But we have to look at Laviska for him and how he fits in our offense. We'll dip our toe in the water on some of that stuff and see how it goes. 

"And that's something that doesn't have to be in full bloom week one. That can be in the beginning stages in training camp, and then the more success and momentum it gets, you build it. So that'd be more likely the path." 

Principal among the "different" feelings Shenault feels under Reich is a sense of confidence. Shenault said he'd sensed the belief from the staff since their earliest days together on the practice field, particularly from assistant head coach Duce Staley. 

"He tries to push me to the next level," Shenault said. "He tries to push you to that level, like having mental toughness, and basically, like, tries to give me that confidence. Like, 'We see you can do it. Go do it.'" 

Shenault's working relationship with the staff is a collaborative process, with the goal of unlocking his potential and utilizing his talent in the most effective way. 

What that looks like will be worked out in training camp, but being aligned sets him up for a good chance to find success. 

"I think I'm trying to find my own self, my own ways to do things," Shenault said. "And then they're doing the same thing. So I'm doing what they're telling me, what they're asking me, and I'm just trying to do that at a high level."

View photos from the second day of training camp at Wofford College.

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