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Carolina Panthers

Notebook: Donte Jackson learning to listen, and lead

Donte Jackson

CHARLOTTE — Cornerback Donte Jackson said he thought Panthers coach Matt Rhule was messing with him Thursday morning, when he told him he had been voted a team captain.

But it was no joke. And neither is Jackson.

The fourth-year cornerback said he was humbled by the selection, clearly moved by the unexpected honor.

"It's definitely something I'll carry the rest of my life," Jackson said. "Just knowing that these guys, these grown men who lead their own families, picked you to lead the team. That says a lot about how they view me and that they respect me."

Jackson admitted this might not have always been possible, as it took time for him to learn what he didn't know, and apply those lessons to the physical skills that were always there.

And at the ripe old age of 25, he can see how he's changed over the years.

"It's crazy. Now that I'm older, I listen more," Jackson said. "I actually absorb coaching, I absorb coach Rhule and the scheme and the plan. The brand, you know? I think this being a football place, a football atmosphere, a bunch of football guys around, this is a perfect home for me, that I was able to mature.

"Coach Rhule and them were on me from the start, just about maturing. They weren't worried about the football; they were worried about maturing. And that's one thing, coming into year four, I wasn't thinking about being a captain, just maturing and leading by example. My teammates noticed my growth, and how I come in every day and just be the same guy, but elevate it."

— His fellow young captain, Brian Burns, said he thought his selection came down to "my charming personality."

But it also has a little something to do with the fact he's a performer.

Burns has high expectations for his own game, saying his (undisclosed) personal goals would put him in the upper echelon of pass-rushers in the game. After a 9.0-sack season, he's clearly not setting limits for himself.

Asked about teammate Haason Reddick suggesting they could combine for 30 sacks, Burns laughed.

"How would I like to see it divided? I would just say I'd like to split it down the middle with my dog," Burns said. "In a dream world, I'd have 20, and he'd have the remainder. Don't tell him I said that."

Burns and Reddick combined for 21.5 sacks, 37 quarterback hits, 23 tackles for loss, and nine forced fumbles last season (Reddick was with the Cardinals), so that would be quite the bump in production.

— Thursday was the first interview opportunity for coordinators Joe Brady and Phil Snow since Rhule put them head-to-head in a push-up contest during practice.

So naturally, they were asked about Rhule's contention that the 65-year-old Snow bested the 31-year-old Brady that day.

"See film," Brady said with a laugh. "That's a lose-lose situation for me. I mean, Snow's probably one of the strongest, we joke around with him about his age, but he works out every day. He's a strong guy, so it was just a situation where I'm going to keep going until I can't in that situation.

"But see film."

When Rhule declared Snow the winner that day, it was reasonable to chalk it up to Snow's old-man strength against the wiry Brady, especially since quarterback Sam Darnold joked that Brady didn't appear to be a weight-room guy.

"Phil's strong," Brady acknowledged. "He's not just old-man strong."

Snow laughed, saying it wasn't the first time Rhule had put him on the spot.

"Being as old as I am, I said, 'Matt, you've got to quit doing that to me,'" he said.

Considering other assistant coaches ran sprints against each other, Snow still got the better end of the deal.

— There's been plenty of talk all offseason about the difference in the Panthers' offense with having Christian McCaffrey on the field again.

And while no one would minimize the absence of the All-Pro running back for 13 games in 2020, Brady said the simple fact of having an offseason would make a significant difference in the offensive play as well.

Without the ability to have in-person OTAs last year, they were installing on the fly once training camp started, and Brady said the difference this year has been noticeable.

"I think last year in itself, there were limitations on what you could and could not do," Brady said. "With or without Christian, just the time on task. Not using it as an excuse, but just the time we had to rep with each other. There are certainly a lot of elements Christian can do that not a lot of other football players can do, but the guys stepped up and ran with that in various roles.

"We kind of took a step back this offseason and figured out who we want to be identity wise, what we do well, what we don't do well, and I'm excited for Sunday to be able to exploit that."

View photos from Thursday's practice in Week 1 as the Panthers prepare to face the Jets.

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