Notebook: Laviska Shenault Jr. puts on a show

Laviska Shenault Jr.

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers have a guy who's pretty good in the open field in Christian McCaffrey.

So when he offered praise for newcomer Laviska Shenault Jr. — who scored the only offensive touchdown in a 22-14 win over the Saints — it meant something.

"He's a horse," McCaffrey said. "He's a guy who can do everything. Brings a different energy to the offense that I think we're excited about."

He also brought a bit of style to the proceedings. While a lot of players were out the door quickly to celebrate with their families — the locker room had a very businesslike demeanor — Shenault was willing to hang around for a bit, and looked like a guy ready for cameras.

You couldn't miss him, as he was wearing a bright green Louis Vuitton tracksuit, an eye-catching piece of jewelry he referred to as "the Hulk-vista" and a pair of black Nike Air Force Ones (which, according to young people, signifies someone who is ready for business).

"I was just trying to think, what can I wear the first game, my first day out type of thing," he said with a laugh. "It's a Louis fit. You know what they say about the black Forces; it's go time."

But it wasn't as much about the style, as the substance the Panthers needed. When the Saints closed the gap to 13-7, Shenault's 67-yard touchdown provided a spark the offense had lacked all day.

Asked what he saw when he caught his first pass, well, it was a little like his fit.

"I saw green," Shenault said. "I saw an opportunity that had to be snatched away. It felt good."

The play wasn't necessarily designed to go to him, but when Baker Mayfield checked to him in the flat, he was able to weave through the Saints defense and accelerate to the end zone. That it came after Shenault's 36-yard kickoff return made it stand out in even more relief on a day when offense was a little hard to come by — he had 90 of the team's 170 receiving yards.

Asked what he hoped to show, Shenault said, "That he's tough. That he's a dog."

What he also showed is that there will likely be even more of a role for him going forward, since he wasn't active the first two weeks after coming over in a late-August trade with Jacksonville.

"Laviska is kind of a competitive guy, and so that's why we traded for him," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said. "He has come far enough along that we feel like we have a good feel for him. It was good. He had a good kickoff return. We will just continue to up his workload now that we can see what he can truly do."

— The win was the first for the Panthers since mid-November, and the first at home since Week 2 of last season.

But throughout the two-game losing streak to start the year, Rhule has emphasized that the seven at the end of last year didn't carry over, since this team was so different.

"You guys know me; I'm not the one to 'so long thing.' We lost two games," he said. "We are not doing that. At least I'm not, and I hope you guys all respect that. We are 0-2. Now, we are 1-2. We are 1-0 this week. We will play again next week.

"So these guys have done a tremendous job of staying really true to the narrative, not that I'm saying, but they are saying of, 'Hey, let's get better this week, let's get better this week.' I think there are a lot of guys in there that said, 'Hey, we did well, but the guys on defense feel like we should have finished the game better. ...

"I think they are happy to win. They worked so hard to win. They want to hear the fans cheer like they did at the end. It was a great atmosphere today. I appreciate everyone for coming. But they also know there is a lot more work to do."

There were more questions about the general sense of relief to change the storyline, and Rhule has continued to emphasize the present. But as he left his press conference, he couldn't help but smile.

"But I'm happy," he said, as he headed for the door.

— Rhule remains encouraged by the play of his offensive line, which has started the same group in all three games (after using 14 different lineups in 17 games last year).

There was a late holding call on rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu which wiped a 40-yard McCaffrey run off the board, but he still ran for 108 yards — his second straight 100-yard game.

"I think the offensive line has played well," Rhule said. "The left side (Ekwonu and left guard Brady Christensen) is still young, and they are a work in progress. There are some things that have to continue to improve over there, and we knew early on playing some young guys, a second-year player and a first-year player, it will take some time. The long run at the end gets called back for a hold. We have to be better.

"There are lots of good things. I do feel the interior of our line is strong. I do feel like we are running the football well. If we can just stay on the field some more third downs, I think we will really see the offensive line get into a rhythm."

View best in-game photos from Carolina's home game against New Orleans.

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