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Minicamp notebook: The Panthers wrap up the spring work

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CHARLOTTE—The Panthers are, for all intents and purposes, on summer break. The team will reconvene once more on Thursday that amounts to the teacher rolling in a tv cart on the last day of class. But the exams are over, the parties have been had, and plans for "summer break" dominated the halls at Bank of America Stadium on Wednesday.

First though, Wednesday did include one last high intensity day on the practice field, bringing together all the pieces and instillations to this point.

"I think about the spring and just where we started from an operational standpoint," Canales reflected, "for us to be able to get into a full speed two minute drill; we had an end of half and then we had an end of game situation right there, getting the calls in and out, playing within the time clock. Love to see the execution a little bit better. We had a couple of drops, but the ball moved.

"The defense had some great stops within those periods as well. It was just good reps for a Ejiro (Evero) and I just to use our time outs, take a look at the situation where we had on the field. But I think really it's just celebrating the players and the way that they've locked in and focused this spring, and have taken to the teaching, the principles of what we're looking for."

Players will have close to a month off now, with freedom to take time away from the building, travel, relax and most importantly, give their bodies a break. It's a time that Canales wants them to take advantage of, but there are still expectations for what should be done during the time off.

"My expectation is for them to take a little bit of time off," Canales began. "They've earned that. They've worked really hard…so I think it's really important that they do take that time earlier in the summer to be able to relax, to let their body recover. There's a mileage component to this whole thing.

"Then I expect them to take advantage of these weeks to really get the sprint work that they need in, for the expectations…they're going to go to their trainers, they're going to go to the places they feel comfortable, but just giving them some suggestions on the flow of how to take care of your body so that there's a climb to training camp.

"Just encouraging them to make sure that they are responsible with that time."

Shaq Thompson rebuilding body and confidence

Shaq Thompson has done a lot since he last stepped on the field for the Panthers. He got married and started a business. While his personal life has grown exponentially, his time away from the game means this offseason was all about re-acclimating himself to football shape. His fibula injury suffered in Week 2 of the 2023 season put the linebacker on the sideline for the year and set forth a long road to recovery.

The offseason has allowed Thompson to ease back into football, working alongside Josey Jewell, who the Panthers signed as a free agent this offseason. The football part of it though is like riding a bike. The mindset and confidence is what takes longer to recover from, Thompson admitted, especially since he had a groin surgery in 2020 he felt was still effecting him.

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"The hardest thing probably to get back was to build that confidence. You lose a lot of strength and a lot of ability on your right side, and you got to compensate," Thompson shared on Wednesday. "So, my body been compensating for over these years and it's finally back healthy.

"I was trying to get back to learn how to function right, the right way. So, the biggest thing was, I think probably, was confidence that I was lacking early on. But shoot it's back now."

Even though Thompson missed much of last season, being able to return the same defensive coaching staff and be surrounded by those that have played in the system before, even with other teams, has helped give him a jump start on his second year under Evero.

"I feel a lot more comfortable honestly," Thompson said. "That's the biggest thing. I know what I'm doing, I know where the help is. I'm starting to understand the flows of the defense and stuff like that. So, it's just once you understand that you could probably just play by the X's and O's a little bit."

Thompson was part of a linebacker corps that saw a lot of change during the offseason, but he hopes to remain a part of it all.

"I love it here. I've been here for nine, going into 10 years. This is all I know. I would love to retire here, you know, but that's in my fate," Thompson said. "And when I say that, I control what I can control, I control myself on that field."

Eddy Piñerio returns for minicamp

Kicker Eddy Piñeiro was on hand for mandatory minicamp this week, marking his first attended practice since the 2023 season ended. He chose not to get into why he was absent during the voluntary portion of the offseason.

"My decision on that is kind of private right now between me and the Panthers," Piñeiro stated Tuesday.

As far as speculation that his absence was in relation to his contract, Piñeiro reiterated he would be keeping those talks between himself and the front office. The Panthers signed Harrison Mevis as a rookie undrafted free agent following the draft, and the Missouri product has been on hand for the entire offseason, kicking well in practices open to the media.

Piñeiro insists that Mevis' performance was not the impetus to return for mandatory minicamp, but rather step back into his job and meet the coaching staff. He previously had only spoken with them over the phone.

"I know it's part of the business," Piñeiro said of the possible competition. "It's just the NFL, you know, they try to replace you all the time and it's just part of the business. Everybody has to compete, nobody's job is safe. I feel like, , that's what the head coaches motivation is, that you got to compete, earn the spot and that's just part of being in the NFL."

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Heading into his fifth season, Piñeiro stands as the third-most-accurate field-goal kicker (89 percent) in NFL history, trailing only Justin Tucker and Harrison Butker. With that in mind, he hopes to make 2024 the season he jumps one or both of the still active kickers.

"I want to have a great season this year," Piñeiro said, "third most accurate kicker in NFL history right now. My goal is to be number one. That's how I'm going to attack this off season and that's my goal. That's what I'm going to work towards

Piñeiro told reporters he expects to be present at the beginning of training camp, which starts in mid-July.

Injury Updates

Outside linebacker DJ Johnson left practice early on Tuesday with an apparent knee injury. Canales shared on Wednesday that he didn't have a specific update, just that "it was good. It was not anything that was really serious." Keeping Johnson held out on Wednesday was primarily precautionary, as he's had past issues.

Fellow outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum (torn quadricep) still has "a ways to go" according to Canales, as does rookie running back Jonathon Brooks (ACL). Another OLB who was held out of minicamp was Eku Leota with a calf strain, although Canales expects him to be ready for training camp.

As for the rest of those banged up, "guys that are coming in with soft tissue things, we just have to be smart about ramping them up as we go," Canales said.

View photos of the Panthers' mandatory minicamp on Wednesday.

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