Notebook: Easing CJ Henderson into a new system

C.J. Henderson

CHARLOTTE — From the moment they traded for cornerback CJ Henderson, the Panthers talked about the long-term benefit of adding a young cover player who was a top-10 pick a year ago.

So after his first day on the practice field, they're not sure when he'll begin his career here.

Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said Henderson would "probably start in a limited role."

"And I'm not sure if that's this week or not, to be honest with you," Rhule said. "We'll watch the tape and see what he's ready for.

"The guys that have been practicing and preparing with us for a while, those are the guys we trust to go win the game. And we'll bring C.J. along, and whenever he's ready to help us, he'll help us."

The Panthers acquired Henderson from the Jaguars Monday, in a deal that sent tight end Dan Arnold to Jacksonville.

He's still getting used to his new environment (and a new number, as he showed up in 15 Wednesday), but he said he was excited to begin a "new journey and a new chapter."

"I've been liking it," he said. "My experience so far has been good. It's player-oriented here, and liking it so far.

"For me I feel like it's a fresh new start for me. Just to start over and get things back on track. Just to get things rolling again."

Henderson walked onto the practice field alongside cornerbacks coach Evan Cooper, who recruited him coming out of high school. Henderson said having a familiar face was "huge" as he makes the transition to a new city, and his new Panthers teammates liked his approach.

C.J. Henderson, Evan Cooper

"He looked good, he looks good," cornerback Donte Jackson said. "You can tell when he was in Jacksonville, he was locked in, he was ready to go and ready to play. That's the same energy he brought here.

"He was asking a lot of questions early on. He wants to compete; he's a defensive back, and we like to compete. That's definitely the early impression on C.J.; he comes in ready to compete and make us better."

— The world may be catching onto the fact the Panthers are 3-0, but Rhule said he'd prefer to stay unnoticed.

In fact, he'd prefer to go back to training camp.

"I appreciate it and love it," he replied when asked about the sense of suspicion about their start. "I much prefer that to people saying we're good.

"I tell our team all the time, you know what I love about this team, I love the team that was down at Wofford, living in dorm rooms for four weeks, eating in the cafeteria. I like the team that no one gave a chance to. As long as I can, I want to stay the Wofford Panthers. I want to be that team down there."

His players might not volunteer for the heat or the dorm rooms, but the experience of the joint practices with the Colts and Ravens clearly paid off for them in the early part of the season.

— The Panthers have gotten this far by keeping a head-down approach, and focusing on small goals rather than looking ahead.

Jackson went fractional, saying every player had to just be "one-eleventh" of the team to stay on task.

Likewise, quarterback Sam Darnold said backup running back Chuba Hubbard didn't have to press, just because he was replacing the injured Christian McCaffrey.

"He doesn't have to do anything special," Darnold said. "It's just him going out there and playing good football, doing his job every single play. That's what we ask everyone to do, and we're not going to ask him, just because Christian's out, to do anything more than that."

— Defensive tackle Phil Hoskins wasn't at Wednesday's practice, and was on the injury report as non-injury related. Rhule said he was attending to a personal matter.

View practice photos from Wednesday as the Panthers prepare to face the Cowboys this weekend.

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