What's a Matt Rhule practice like? High energy with a quick pace

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CHARLOTTE — From the time Panthers head coach Matt Rhule began speaking at his introductory press conference in January, it's been easy to see the passion and energy he has for football.

Since then, multiple players have mentioned that Rhule is the kind of coach they'd run through a wall for. That includes safety Juston Burris on Sunday when discussing why he signed with the Panthers this spring.

"It's just (Rhule's) presence," Burris said. "It was something that you could tell from those (virtual) team meetings. He commands a room, and he commands respect. And you can tell that if we follow his teachings, we'll be successful."

Sunday was the first time the media has been able to see the Panthers on the field under Rhule. Witnessing it in person, it's safe to say the same passion Rhule displayed in that introductory press conference manifests itself into high-energy practice.

Right tackle Taylor Moton described the sessions as condensing two and a half hours into 90 minutes. When a reporter brought that up to Rhule, he said: "All I know is what I know."

"I think of it as, we're going to go 90 minutes, we're going to go an hour, two hours, whatever it is, and we're going to just maximize our time," Rhule continued. "I think if guys have maybe been somewhere else that there's some other people that believe in practicing differently, practicing a little slower. So maybe this seems like a stark contrast to them."

Even with the quick tempo, the pace is slower than Rhule is used to.

"If you came to Baylor practice, we would've been 10 times faster because we weren't in the huddle," he said. "Sometimes (offensive coordinator) Joe (Brady) laughs at me because I get a little antsy, like 'get the play in, let's go, get the play in.' So, this is what I know."

The practice format was fairly standard, with individual and group work, one-on-ones, and 11-on-11 drills. Rhule modeled most of it from his experiences at Penn State and with the Giants.

"The practice we're doing is just kind of how I was raised in football that really just seems natural to me," he said. "We just want to move efficiently from drill to drill and have great energy, work really hard, and get out of there. We don't want to be on the field longer than we have to. But we're going to make sure that while we're out there, we put great reps on tape."

Music also blared through a pair of team periods, though Rhule did reserve the right to turn it off whenever needed.

"There's always something you can correct or point out, so I'll yell, 'Stop the music,' and try to make whatever points I need to make," Rhule said.

But the quick tempo of practice is implemented by design.

"I think if it's a little bit faster at practice, when you get to the game, it feels way, way slower," Rhule said. "Then, hopefully, you're in better shape. Hopefully, you can fly around."

Moton agreed that faster practices get him in better shape, which is especially important as an offensive lineman because no one is subbing in for him.

"I think it's really good to make sure we're the best-conditioned team, especially when it comes down to the crunch time of the fourth quarter that we're out there and we've got 100-percent focus because we're in the better shape," Moton said. "I like how efficient (practice) is."

Added Burris:

"You can tell it from him down to the coaches, down to us. It's a lot of energy, fast pace, and it's great to be around."

Rhule dismissed the idea that he sets the tone himself, saying one of the reasons he likes to start practice with a competitive period is to get players' energy up. But he did credit his assistants for how they provide the juice needed for the players during individual drill instruction.

"I tell our coaches all the time, let's make sure that we are the energy that we want to see from the players. Let's make sure that we have the level of detail," Rhule said. "We're not rah-rah, high-fiving. We're coaching and giving details. So it's a matter of having great effort and having great details in coaching."

But given how strange this offseason and training camp has been, it makes sense that players and coaches would be energetic when they're on the grass. As Burris put it, practice is when things feel about as normal as they can during a pandemic.

Rhule shared a similar assessment.

"This is what we love to do," he said. "We sit here in meetings. We get in the building at 6 a.m. We're here until eight, nine o'clock at night. The one time we get to go have fun is practice. So we try to make practice fun, competitive, and tough all at the same time."

NEWS AND NOTES

— Wide receiver Keith Kirkwood has a clavicle injury, and according to Rhule, "will be out for several weeks."

— Tight end Temarrick Hemingway has a head injury and is day-to-day.

— Left tackle Russell Okung exited the field with a trainer during practice but is fine. He's been dealing with some lower-back tightness and went to work in the pool. Rhule said that was the plan for Okung, and will likely continue for the next few days.

— Moton, whose rookie contract expires after the season, said he's letting his agent handle any potential contract extension discussions with the Panthers front office.

"I have a lot of trust in my agent, and me jumping into that is like (saying) I don't trust what he's doing," Moton said. "I'm in camp, and that's what I'm worried about right now — day-in and day-out, the process of football."

— Panthers' quarterbacks were wearing green practice jerseys instead of the usual red. Why?

"To me, red denotes injured," Rhule said. "My quarterbacks have always either worn orange or green. Red, to me, just means, 'Hey, I'm an injured player.' We want our quarterbacks to stay healthy, so put them in green and (it's) nothing else really other than that."

Carolina signed three players on Sunday morning, Tommylee Lewis, Marken Michel, and tight end Andrew Vollert. Vollert had a memorable scene in last week's episode of "Hard Knocks," when after he was cut by the Chargers, Vollert had an emotional conversation with Los Angeles head coach Anthony Lynn.

"Those are brutal, gruesome meetings. When you get let go from a job, it is emotional. So I understood where he was coming from with that," Rhule said. "I know he's battled back from an ACL injury. But just like all of us, when one door closes, one door opens. So now he has an opportunity here, and I'm excited to get to know him and work with him."

— The Panthers will have their first practice in full pads on Monday. In the past, Rhule has put on a helmet and pads to fire up his players. Will he do it again soon?

"Not a chance," Rhule said with a laugh. "Those days are long gone. These guys are way too fast and explosive. There's not a chance."

View photos of Sunday's training camp practice from the Atrium Health Dome and practice fields.

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