Minicamp notebook: Defense has a day

Kenny Robinson

CHARLOTTE — Because it's minicamp, and because the Panthers aren't in pads yet, there are only so many conclusions one can draw from any particular plays in any particular practice.

But one wouldn't have had to watch long Tuesday to see their defense making plays.

Again, there are a lot of conditions to work through here, but the majority of the highlights made were by the guys wearing the black jerseys in practice.

Look up, and there's safety Kenny Robinson intercepting a tipped pass. Then J.T. Ibe picked one off. Moments later, defensive tackle Derrick Brown batted a pass at the line of scrimmage which landed in the hands of linebacker Haason Reddick. Then safety Juston Burris was breaking up a pass downfield, and then nickel Myles Hartsfield was hauling in a pick of his own.

"I thought the defense stood out," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said. "But again, it's kind of hard, the offensive line can't really block them, and you see batted balls because they (offensive linemen) can't pull them down, those kinds of things, since we're obviously not trying to have contact.

"But I think anytime we pick balls off, it's great, but I wouldn't single any one person out."

While the offensive line could have certainly done some things to make it look more balanced if allowed, the day clearly tipped toward defense. That's even more impressive considering their top three defensive ends (Brian Burns, Yetur Gross-Matos, and Morgan Fox were wearing red jerseys and not participating).

It's also important to keep it from becoming an indictment of the quarterbacks throwing the picks, because offseason overreactions aren't always a reliable indicator of actual performance.

Asked about starter Sam Darnold's day, Rhule said he saw positives, and that Darnold did some "good things."

"I don't want him to have great days, to be honest with you, because it means we're not making things hard enough for him," Rhule said. "I want him to have good days, and steady progress, and to me, good days lead to great days."

GLAD TO BE BACK

Rookie cornerback Jaycee Horn missed the first few reps of practice Tuesday, while he was inside Bank of America Stadium signing his new four-year rookie contract. When he rolled in moments later, there were high-fives from teammates glad to see him again.

Horn missed some time last week during OTAs while they negotiated, but said afterward his priority was getting back and getting better.

"It feels good, being able to focus solely on football now," Horn said. "Got all the business stuff out of the way, now I'm ready to play ball. 

"Right now, my main goal is the playbook. I feel like you play way faster, and you have more confidence when you know the playbook inside out. And that's my main goal right now, is getting in the playbook and dialing in on that."

When pressed on his absence last week, Horn said contractual matters weren't anything he worried about as he worked out on his own. 

"I was just waiting on my agent to tell me when I could come back," he said. "I can't answer any of the contract questions, because I don't know."

STILL WAITING

Beyond the three defensive ends, the Panthers still had a few players on the mend from injuries or after offseason procedures.

Jeremy Chinn, Trent Scott, Terrace Marshall Jr., and Shi Smith were among the other players in red jerseys, while Cameron Erving wasn't working on the field.

Rhule said he expected all the players who have been limited this spring to be ready for the start of training camp, with the possible exception of Troy Pride Jr.. He didn't elaborate on Pride's issue, but said the second-year cornerback might miss the first few days of camp.

Running back Chuba Hubbard was back on the field and practicing Tuesday, after he missed some time earlier in OTAs.

ONE MORE DAY

The Panthers will have another day of minicamp Wednesday, but won't practice Thursday. 

Rhule said the team will go through the preseason conditioning test Thursday instead of on-field work. 

That's partly because attendance was so good throughout OTAs and he was pleased with their work throughout the offseason.

TAKING IT IN STRIDE

Erving laughed and revealed that players have been referring to right tackle Taylor Moton as "Franchise," and Moton just grinned and shook his head when asked about it later.

That's in reference to the franchise tag the Panthers used to keep Moton out of free agency this offseason.

They have until July 15 to negotiate a long-term deal, or else Moton will play out the season on the one-year, $13.754 million.

Moton shared no thoughts on the money side of things, saying he only wanted "to be the best Taylor Moton I can be."

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

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