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Notebook: Chris Tabor embraces "next man up" on special teams 

Chris Tabor

CHARLOTTE – Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor has dealt with some attrition in his phase of the game, mainly because the Panthers are dealing with attrition across the board.

Two of Carolina's primary special teams contributors, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill and safety Sam Franklin Jr., have been called up to play more defensive snaps with the losses of veteran leaders Shaq Thompson (fibula) and Xavier Woods (hamstring) due to injury.

It's part of the gig for Tabor, who said he's used to dealing with that churn. When guys like Grugier-Hill and Franklin spend less time with the special teams units while playing more defense, it's just about preparing for anything and having trust in the next players available. 

"You just keep going," Tabor said in a press conference Thursday. "And next man up, that's the kind of the mantra in the NFL, and it is true. There's really not much you can do about that.

"Those guys, they could be playing for us; they could not be playing for us. I mean, it just happens. It happens all the time during the game."

Tabor said he prepares multiple players throughout the week in various lineups, just in case they lose a contributor to another phase of the game. 

"I also try to talk about, 'OK, if this happens, you need to know these few spots,' so that in the game, if it does happen, I just press those buttons, and those guys go do that," Tabor said. "Then you just kind of hope that they're training and coach them up on the sidelines. And hopefully, we can play well." 

When coaching younger or newer players, Tabor has experienced allies in the meeting room who ensure the right questions are being asked – even if they're not asked by the person who needs the answers.

Punter Johnny Hekker is a "big weapon" in more ways than one, Tabor explained, as he marries his consistency on the field with a helpful presence off of it.

"We installed punt return today, and one of the guys that asked a question is Johnny Hekker, and he's not even on the punt return team," Tabor said. "Once again, it kind of shows the pro that he is. He also might ask a question because maybe this guy over here, the young player, doesn't want to ask that question. But he knows he needs to ask it. 

"There's a lot of things that he does. I know people see the field results, but behind the scenes, it's amazing."

Tabor called the combination of Hekker and long snapper JJ Jansen a "security blanket" for him while he coaches, mentioning how the duo will help him on whether they think a concept is understood. 

It all works in symbiosis as the Panthers deal with bringing up some newer faces on special teams.

"They sit right by each other in the meetings," Tabor said. "And if I say something or ask a question, I might be asking for this guy over here. But I can look at JJ and Hekk, and they give me the look like, 'You might want to hit that one again,' or 'He has it.' So it's a huge plus for me."

– Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero highlighted the challenge that comes with the Vikings' offense, emphasizing the key points they need to hone in on with Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins and his bevy of pass catchers.

Evero complimented wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who has already put up 458 yards on 27 catches this season, as well as rookie Jordan Addison and tight end T.J. Hockenson. 

"(Jefferson's) arguably the best in the league," Evero said. "Speed, change of direction and route running, after the catch, he can do it all at a high, high level. And Kirk can get him the ball, so it's going to be a great challenge for our defense.

"And it's not just one guy you've got to stop. You've still got to stop 87 (Hockenson); you've still got to stop Addison. They've got weapons all over the place."

– Outside linebacker Brian Burns shared his thoughts Thursday on Frank Reich's messaging around urgency over desperation amid the Panthers' 0-3 start.

Carolina is facing another 0-3 team in the Vikings this Sunday, but that doesn't add any sense of panic for the experienced edge rusher.

Burns said desperation could cause overcompensation, in his opinion, but urgency helps him lock in on the task at hand – earning the win.

"I'd rather be urgent than desperate," he said.

– Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said they're focusing on efficiency and mitigating penalties when it comes to getting the run game established more prominently than it was at Seattle.

The Panthers went away from the run against the Seahawks for multiple reasons, putting up just 44 yards rushing. Brown said it was "difficult to stay on track" with the runs when they were consistently backed up due to seven false start penalties.

Brown also emphasized the balance between the run and pass. He shared that balance doesn't necessarily mean a 50-50 split, but it means that the offense has a choice between the run and the pass that has the chance to be successful either way. 

"It means being able to run when we want to run and pass when we want to throw the football, to kind of dictate on our own terms when it comes to that balance we provide," Brown said. "And that balance might change week to week. But (we've) obviously got to do a better job of being more efficient when it comes to that area of our offense."

View photos from the Panthers' practice on Wednesday.

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