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Notebook: Hoping for smooth transition on offense

Jeff Nixon

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers had a new look on the practice field Wednesday, though the goal is to get back to things they've seen before.

Wednesday marked the first full practice under the watch of new play-caller Jeff Nixon, the senior offensive assistant and running backs coach who is replacing former offensive coordinator Joe Brady.

So while the late-season change Sunday made it clear they wanted to mix things up on offense, the system's the same.

"I'm not trying to look too deep into it," wide receiver Robby Anderson said. "It's still the same offense and things like that, and I'm not the one on the headsets, so I'm not trying to put too much unnecessary thought into it."

From head coach Matt Rhule through the players who talked Wednesday, there was an emphasis that the larger system wasn't being overhauled. Of course, they rank 29th in the league in total offense and passing yards per game, so there's a reason for the change, and Anderson said he could see a potential benefit in a different voice in that headset.

"I mean, it's still the same offense," Anderson said. "Obviously, we're looking to reset and go in a new direction and get back to things that were working for us on a consistent basis, but I wouldn't say we're installing and doing a bunch of new things. Still our bread and butter, what works for us, and what we've been doing."

Rookie offensive lineman Brady Christensen said he was impressed with the way Nixon worked with the entire offense, talking to linemen during drills.

"He's an awesome coach, really demands great technique out of you," Christensen said.

— As the Panthers try to tighten up a persistent problem with flags, they had a crew of ACC officials at practice Wednesday.

"It was a reaction to the penalties," Rhule said simply.

Rhule mentioned that of the team's last 54 drive-starting plays, 10 included penalties. That's the kind of sloppy play you can't afford when you're dealing with a limited margin of error on offense.

Even after a week off last week, the Panthers are still third in the league with 88 total penalties this year.

— Cornerback Stephon Gilmore played a season-high 43 snaps in the last game against the Dolphins, and Rhule said that's likely the ballpark he'll stay around this year.

"I don't know how many more than that he'll get to," Rhule said. "I don't know if Stephon will be a 70-play guy. I think in that 40-55-play range is probably right for him."

The veteran corner has gradually added to his workload this year, after coming off last year's quad injury in New England.

The Panthers will need him the last five games after Donte Jackson was placed on IR over the bye, but Rhule said they'd continue to parcel out the reps among several corners, with veteran Rashaan Melvin playing more of a role.

— Rhule said that left tackle Cameron Erving would likely be activated this week, and return to the starting lineup. Erving was designated to return from IR and has practiced since Monday. He's missed the last three games with a calf injury.

View photos of Panthers practice on Wednesday as the Panthers prepare to take on Atlanta in Week 14.

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