Matt Rhule '100 percent' supported players' decision not to practice on Saturday

Team huddle

CHARLOTTE — On Friday night, head coach Matt Rhule talked to a few Panthers who wanted to have a team meeting on racial injustice. On Saturday morning, the conversation continued.

It became clear to Rhule that his players wanted to meet as a team instead of practicing that morning, and he completely understood. 

"I was 100 percent in support of not practicing," Rhule said Monday. "I think that as a white man, it shouldn't just be our African American players having to say, 'Hey we want to sit out.' It should be me as well taking a stand and saying there's some things more important than this.

"So they made all those decisions, they made all those calls. But I am in complete support of them."

Safety Tre Boston declined to go into specifics about what was said during Saturday's meeting, keeping that in-house out of respect for his teammates. But Boston admitted the goal was to get everyone on the same page for a list of priorities — from team owner David Tepper to Rhule to each player on the roster. The goal is to craft a plan that has a lasting impact.

"We don't have a silver bullet to fix it all," Boston said.

"When we came to the coaches, and we let them know this is how we felt, they felt the same way. I think it was a breath of fresh air for a lot of guys because obviously, we're more than just athletes. So this stuff weighs on our minds, our hearts as well."

Boston also spoke with Tepper on Friday and felt supported from the top on the concerns players have and the causes they'd like to champion.

"We had a good conversation, and I thought it was well needed because it's always good to feel like the owner is on the same page as you," Boston said.

Saturday's practice was supposed to be significant, with Rhule noting it would have been a lot like a third preseason game. But with Friday's long practice and a pair of physical sessions on tap for Monday and Tuesday, he believes they'll make up the time.

Rhule also plans to make this week a mix between a final week of training camp and a mock game week. While Monday's practice was a two-and-a-half-hour, camp-style session, the day's schedule was more like a Wednesday during the season. Rhule said the Panthers will practice as if it's a game on Friday.

"I feel like we still need to work and get better fundamentally," Rhule said. "But we also want the guys to see, 'Hey, this is what it'll be like,' so (when) we get to next week, Raiders week, our guys aren't looking at us like, what do I do next?"

But all of those elements were worth adjusting for the conversations the Panthers had on Saturday.

"At the end of the day," Rhule said, "a social statement is way more important than the football part."

NEWS AND NOTES

— Rhule and Boston both expressed disappointment for fans, who will not be able to watch the Panthers and Raiders play in person in Week 1. But Rhule said he feels the team is prepared to play in an empty stadium.

"I think our guys, if they just turn it back to football, they'll always be OK," he said.

— With under a week before rosters must be reduced to 53 players, the coaches and front office must make critical evaluations over the next few days. Rhule said about five to seven players are fighting for the last few spots on the initial 53, and the focus of those players will likely be on special teams.

"We've got to be improved on special teams," Rhule said. "I think a big part of that is finding guys who are going to get better and better and better and play their best football in December."

— On the backup quarterback competition, Rhule said the backup could be different from week-to-week if both Will Grier and P.J. Walker are on the active roster. There will be a lot of work for the reserves over the next few days — including both Grier and Walker — to gather information for those evaluations.

— The Panthers have already started game-planning for the Raiders. Rhule said the focus is making sure Carolina's players are in the best position possible to succeed.

"What we don't want to do is be a game-plan oriented team that changes every week and doesn't play to our players' strengths," Rhule said. "We want to have a great plan for our players where they can go out and play fast."

View photos from Monday's practice at the Atrium Health practice fields.

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