Like most, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule is staying at home, sequestered with family as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend normal life.
This is not what Rhule envisioned for his first offseason program in Carolina. Wednesday was supposed to be the third day of classroom work along with strength and conditioning during Phase I. But like everyone else, Rhule is doing his best to make the most of this period.
"Obviously, we didn't plan for our first month together here as a family in Charlotte to be like this, to be at home all the time," Rhule said Wednesday morning during an interview with team reporter Kristen Balboni. "Trying to make sure we have dinner together, making sure we go for walks together — those are things that some families can do that as a football coach you don't always have the time throughout the season to get those things done."
The NFL still has not given a definitive answer as to when a virtual offseason may begin for teams with new head coaches, and Rhule has found that waiting is one of the toughest parts.
"In terms of the players, that's the part that's really hard for me. You take over a team, you can't wait to meet the players," Rhule said. "I miss that part of it. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is that our players are safe.
"We've reached out to them and told them right now there's some debate about when we can start sort of a virtual classroom and virtual learning," Rhule continued. "Once that gets started, we'll make the most of the offseason. Obviously, as a first-year head coach, you'd love to get started with your team, but that's just not the way it is. And there's no reason to be upset about it. We're going to do the most that we can, most that we're allowed to."
Still, the business of football has continued to churn with the Panthers making a change at quarterback. Rhule said the decision to move on from Cam Newton was difficult, but it was one the club felt was in its best interest moving forward.
"I think the world of Cam — as a person, and then everyone knows the type of player he's been for many, many years," Rhule said. "And I hope for his sake that he'll find that success wherever he ends up."
In making the move to Bridgewater, Rhule feels the Panthers have a quarterback who has an advantage entering the season because he knows the offense. Especially with a truncated offseason program, that Bridgewater has familiarity with offensive coordinator Joe Brady from their shared time with the Saints makes a significant difference.
"Really as you're sitting there in a time with no offseason, (Bridgewater) walks in Day 1, he knows the verbiage, he knows the concepts. You watch him on tape, he's executing the plays that we're going to run. So you feel really good about that," Rhule said. "And then, throughout his career, he's someone who makes everyone around him better.
"I think he's the perfect fit for us, for our offense, for where this team wants to go."
And Rhule has a lot of respect for how Bridgewater has come back from the devastating knee injury he suffered right before the 2016 season. When Baylor played at the Sugar Bowl in January, the team practiced at the Saints facility. Rhule ran into Bridgewater at one point and told him how much he admired what Bridgewater had accomplished.
"At that time not knowing I would ever see him again, I told him, 'Hey Teddy, I've got so much respect for you and what you've done and what you've been through. Even seeing you now come to the Saints and go 5-0 and cede your spot back to Drew and do it with class and dignity,'" Rhule said.
Rhule is now Bridgewater's coach, pleased with that move and many others the Panthers have made in free agency. As the team continues its pre-draft evaluations, Rhule said he feels Carolina hit on a lot of its targets this spring — which in turn means there are fewer holes to fill with draft picks.
"I would say just where we are as a roster, there may be some places where we might need to get someone here, might need to get someone there. But I liked the players that we got in free agency because they're all the right fit for us and who we are schematically," Rhule said. "We didn't go out and spend all our capital on one guy. We tried to spread it out and bring in a strong nucleus of guys, who are going to do things the right way and fit our systems."
With pro days and in-person visits suspended, another edge the Panthers may have for the draft is that so much of the coaching staff is coming from the collegiate level. And as Rhule put it, that means the staff can reduce uncertainties they might otherwise have about a player because they've seen them.
"The tape is information, the Combine was information, the Senior Bowl was information," Rhule said. "But also the connections that we have and the time that we've spent either facing or coaching a lot of these guys is information as well."
So as Rhule and the rest of the staff continues to adjust to the current reality, the head coach has been putting his personal situation into a larger perspective.
"I think any inconvenience you feel — any time you sit there and say, boy I really need to be in the office for this — I think that's certainly overcome and mitigated by you turn the news on at night and you see people on the front lines," Rhule said. "You see our doctors, our nurses, EMS, our first responders; you see the battle that they're waging. You see Americans all across the country battling coronavirus in their communities and it really puts things into perspective.
"It makes you say, you know what, we've got to get this corrected and we have to take advantage of the time that we have, but be very grateful that we're healthy."