CHARLOTTE — The Panthers like to mix it up on defense anyway, but defensive coordinator Phil Snow said Thursday that their unique cornerback room gives them many more options.
With Jaycee Horn returning alongside Donte Jackson, and the emergence of CJ Henderson throughout training camp, Snow knows he's fortunate to have the kind of talent at the position he does.
"You know, arguably we have the top three corners in the league as a group," Snow said. "You could argue that we do."
He wasn't talking about each of them individually, so it's not an unreasonable argument, as few teams can stack a couple of top-10 draft picks and a veteran such as Jackson together. And that gives Snow a certain latitude in the way he calls defenses. Specifically, Snow said having three guys with the ability to play man could allow them to change the way they pressure quarterbacks.
A lot of that also stems from Horn's ability to cover a wide range of players, given his combination of size and speed. In a division with a range of targets from Saints receiver Michael Thomas to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in Tampa Bay, to Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts, that becomes particularly helpful.
"It's hard to find really quality corners who you can play on whoever," Snow said of Horn. "He can play on a little guy; he can play on a big guy, right? He could play a tight end; he could play a lot of different people. Those kinds of guys are hard to find. So he's fun to be around.
"So hopefully, we can keep those three healthy and go from there."
Snow was clearly in the mood to praise Thursday, since later during his press conference, while referring to Horn, he said: "Personally, I think he's one of the best players in the league, and will be."
— Linebacker Shaq Thompson continued to ramp up his practice time, as he works to prepare for the opener in 10 days. He was going up to five snaps in a row Thursday, and had a pitch count of 25 snaps.
"He looks good though; he's got fresh legs," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said. "So he's flying around. Shaq's kind of the elder statesman, so when he's out there, everything has a different tenor to it. He's worked hard to get to this point, so I'm excited."
Rhule said he didn't think Thompson would be limited next week, but the top-end depth of their linebacker group means his snap count might be. Rhule said in mixing and matching Cory Littleton (who started in Thompson's absence in the preseason) along with Frankie Luvu and Damien Wilson, they have an opportunity to keep guys fresher.
"We do like our linebacking corps, so we have some different packages," Rhule said. "Our guys on defense, our goal is not to play them 70 snaps but to have them rotating in. I don't want to see Cory not rotating in, or Uce, or Damien. So I want to play all those guys."
— The Panthers brought in two more players to the practice squad Thursday before practice, adding quarterback Jacob Eason and wide receiver C.J. Saunders.
Saunders has been here the last two offseasons, spending most of last year on the practice squad before some late-season call-ups. He caught two passes in the finale against the Buccaneers last year.
Eason, the former Georgia and University of Washington quarterback, has spent time with the Colts and Seahawks, and was cut by Seattle this week. The 6-foot-6, 231-pounder appeared in one game for the Colts last season.
Eason caught the red-eye flight here overnight, and didn't do much in practice. "He's been here, what, three hours?" quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan said.
But Rhule said they had a positive evaluation of Eason when he came out in the draft, so they wanted to take a longer look.
"When he was available yesterday, I was all for it," Rhule said. "Any time we can take young players with a ton of talent, and put them in our system and get them involved in our process and see what they can do. We'll take it slow and see what he does."
Eason will likely work as the scout team quarterback primarily, though they'll try to get him some reps in the Panthers' offense as he goes.
The Panthers have practiced with just two quarterbacks the last two days, with Baker Mayfield and PJ Walker taking all the work since Sam Darnold went on injured reserve on Thursday.
— Defensive end Amaré Barno was back to practice Thursday, working back from his preseason hamstring injury. Having him back adds depth at his position, and he could also become a factor on special teams since they have just five linebackers on the roster at the moment. Since you need big guys who can run there, Barno's speed (a 4.36-second 40 at the combine) would be a benefit in that regard.
— General manager Scott Fitterer said quarterback Matt Corral recently had surgery on his injured foot in Green Bay (with foot specialist and former Panthers team orthopedist Dr. Robert Anderson. Corral was lost for the season to a Lisfranc injury.
— Fitterer mentioned the Panthers will continue to look for some new looks on the defensive line and may try to add some depth at defensive end in the coming days.
View photos of practice in the last week of the preseason before the Panthers turn the page to Cleveland.