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Minicamp notebook: Dave Canales balancing practice reps and draft prep

Andy Dalton, Bryce Young, Dave Canales

CHARLOTTE — Wednesday morning, Panthers head coach Dave Canales was running his second practice at voluntary minicamp, and running around doing drills and acting as a scout team player during certain periods.

Wednesday afternoon, Canales was running through draft scenarios.

Having the extra minicamp afforded to new coaches is a benefit as he begins installing a new system, but it also requires a bit of mental gymnastics to separate the on-field work and the preparation for the draft that begins Thursday night.

"The early part of the morning, working all the way through the weight room and into the meetings, I really have to be locked in on the scheme and the flow of what we're doing," Canales said. "Shortly after this meeting, I'll grab lunch and then I got like snap my brain back into draft mode. And it really is cool, though, to see to be out there on the field right now to see plays happening, to imagine different players in the draft and how they would fit in with the actual bodies and the guys that we have there.

"So I think that's a cool exercise, for Dan (Morgan) and the scouts who are out there watching practice for the coaches and all of us as we go through the evaluation piece, to then now shift into the afternoon with all of that film on our minds."

The Panthers get to ease into the draft since they don't have a first-rounder, but will be on hand Thursday night to monitor the process and get ready for having two of the first seven picks on Friday. (You can see all of their picks here.)

Canales said being on the field for the first steps of this process allows them to see the schemes in action, which is helpful as they're visualizing picks.

He said that didn't really change the work they did on the field this week, even though some new players could change what they need to do or can do, but that seeing the existing players helped frame the way they view guys this weekend.

And when they get some more bodies in this weekend, they might not need him to be on the scout team, though he said he enjoyed getting a sweat in while mimicking different positions. At various points in practice, Canales acted as a lineman, a pass-rusher, a corner, among others. He's not the only one, as offensive coordinator Brad Idzik comes out with cleats each day to run routes and get his cardio in while working with receivers.

"Number one, it's a workout for me," Canales said. "So it's steps, if I had my tracker on them just getting more, more steps. Moving around, it's infectious. It shows the players, it gives the visual for the quarterback, the wide receivers, the coaching staff as well. Like, hey, let's be involved, let's get in the middle of these drills. And let's not be the coaches that have our arms crossed, standing back on the sideline, reading a script. Let's be interactive, let's be developmentally-minded and let's be intentional.

"So that's what I want from our whole group. So I have to lead by example that way, and it's fun."

Dave Canales

— Speaking of draft-eligible players, South Carolina wide receiver Xavier Legette made headlines recently when he said the Panthers told him they'd draft him at No. 33 if he was available.

Canales laughed when asked about that, and said it was a framing of a question they posed to many prospects this year.

"Oh yeah, that was a great conversation," Canales said with a grin. "I definitely said that to him and about 50 other guys. It's actually a lead-in question. So when we draft you at 33, what happens now? And then there's a bunch of questions that happen after that."

That story sparked a lot of conversation, and Canales said as they've explored their new city, they haven't lacked opinions on what the team should do.

"I'm getting a lot of recommendations on who we should draft recently," he said. "So, who did I get yesterday? I got (Georgia receiver) Ladd McConkey from a guy at Flower Child. So I got one of those. What else did I get? I got a (Penn State pass-rusher) Chop Robinson two days ago. I get Leggette a lot.

"People are throwing names at me. I think it's really fun, and my response is always like, 'Yeah, what a great player. Wouldn't that be cool?' So, it's been fun."

— Running back Chuba Hubbard found a friend when he and tight end Tommy Tremble were drafted together in 2021 (in the fourth and third rounds, respectively), and the two have worked together ever since. Honestly, they're the buddy cop movie you didn't realize you needed.

And as they've entered new stages in their careers where they've gone from backups with promise to the lead guys at their positions (at least in terms of stats), Hubbard said it was good having that kind of familiar support.

Hubbard led the team with 902 rushing yards and has entered camp as the starter, and Tremble led all tight ends last year with 23 catches for 194 yards and three touchdowns.

But more than working together on the field, they're a constant part of each other's lives, spending hours upon hours after practice working on the Jugs machine to refine their pass-catching.

"It's a lot of hard work, man. A lot of days when you thought you were going to quit, a lot of days when you felt like, can I still do this?" Hubbard said. But you know, one thing about Tommy, I say is, man, he stuck through it. He works hard, he's dedicated, and he loves football — that boy loves ball.

"And I'm fortunate to have a guy like that to push me, carry me along and also us being in the same draft class going through rookie year together, second year together and just kind of having each other's back. So I'm blessed to have a guy like that for sure."

— Center Austin Corbett is getting used to his new position and new guys on either side of him.

And they make the 6-foot-4, 305-pounder look small by comparison. In any other context, Corbett is still a remarkably large individual, but he's merely huge next to Robert Hunt (massive and perhaps optimistically listed at 6-6, 335) and Damien Lewis (a shorter and wider 6-2, 327)

"I don't know what the weight ratios would be from this year to last year; I mean, Bradley (Bozeman) was also a massive human on the inside," Corbett said. "So it's nice when you kind of go in there, and Robert's a little taller than me. I'm a little taller than D-Lew, and it's just like, all right, there's a lot of weight up here. . . .

"We want to lean on them. That's the standard, and that's the way we're going to play this game. We're going to get downhill, we're going to run the ball, we're going to change up looks, we're going to do everything we can, but we're going to impose our will, and we're going to enjoy doing it."

— In addition to all the friendly neighbors with draft advice, Canales is also getting to know some of the neighborhoods around the stadium, as he and his family look for homes and schools. He referenced recently driving through the tree-lined streets in the greater Queens Road and Providence area of Myers Park.

"It's just the trees hanging over the streets; you turn into any of the neighborhoods, and you see people running down the street with their dogs and kids playing," he said. "I got four kids, so it just feels like such an amazing place for us to start this chapter in our football life, and we're really excited."

Asked if he has learned to navigate intersections like Queens and Queens Road West, or the many ways our streets change names without changing directions, he laughed and replied: "Not a chance, or all the Providences."

— The Panthers are using one practice field this week, as the construction continues on the adjacent new fields which will be ready by training camp. That's created some dust at times, but Canales saw the close-quarters work as a metaphor for what they're putting together as a staff.

"I think for us, just in this mode with the limited amount of time we're out there, the one field is perfect right now," he said. "You know, there's nothing to remind you that progress is being made than the 'beep, beep' (of machinery), but good stuff's happening.

"We can see it. From the shots that I saw before to what's actually being created right now, there's a lot more space being taken advantage of, and I'm really looking forward to when we have the full field to complement."

View photos of the Panthers' voluntary offseason workouts on Wednesday.

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