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Notebook: Pittsburgh decisions don't change Panthers plan

Sam Darnold

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers will play their starters for about a half of Friday night's preseason finale, but the Steelers aren't going to reciprocate.

Since they had an extra preseason game by playing in the Hall of Fame Game, the Steelers are going to park a number of key players Friday, and quarterback Dwayne Haskins will start for them.

For Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold, the fact he'll be playing against reserves doesn't matter, since his focus is on making sure his details are correct.

"I think the same thing I said last week, just continue to work on getting in and out of the huddle, making sure we're good formationally and picking up protections, and we're running the ball efficiently and not having a lot of penalties, those are the important things," he said of his goals for Friday night.

Darnold played one series last week against the Ravens, without Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore. McCaffrey's not expected to play Friday, but they did want to let Darnold get some work in during the preseason.

Likewise, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule wasn't worried about evaluating his starters against someone else's reserves, since he's more worried about what his team is doing anyway.

"They've played four preseason games, so that's a different deal," he said of the Steelers. "I'm worried about us and our execution and how we move and how we get in and out of a break, and how we communicate and all those things. Those are the things we worked on; those are the reasons we play the game

"I'm just completely worried about us, against the Colts against the Ravens and now the Steelers; it's all been about us and the things we do."

— The Panthers had some special guests at practice Wednesday, with former Panthers Luke Kuechly and Greg Olsen dropping by.

Both were around for practice, talking with various players. After the practice, Rhule had Olsen address the team.

"Just to be a team, to stick together, and to enjoy what you have when you have it," Rhule said of Olsen's message. "And also as Greg said, how great of a place it is to play here in the Carolinas."

Olsen drew a laugh at one point, and defensive end Brian Burns said that came after Olsen said he was tempted to run some routes against safety Jeremy Chinn.

"He said he wished Chinn would guard him, and that he'd give Chinn a twenty-dollar move," Burns said.

— Speaking of moves, the Panthers have had some friendly competition during recent practices.

It started when defensive line coach Frank Okam and coaching assistant Terrance Knighton were running to the ball in practice to get their linemen to follow suit, and someone inevitably declared themselves faster. That led to a series of sprints Tuesday between coaches.

"There was a lot of debate among the staff who's faster, so I said let's settle it," Rhule said. "I wanted everyone, you better warm up, you better bring a pair of cleats because I'm going to start calling guys out.

"We want to be a competitive team, so let's have everyone compete. You notice I didn't call myself out there, I'm exempt."

Wednesday, Rhule had defensive coordinator Phil Snow and offensive coordinator Joe Brady participate in a push-up contest (It was far too hot for the 65-year-old Snow to be out running, but it's widely acknowledged that he does have old-man strength).

"Joe did good; I don't know if he's worked out lately," Darnold said of his coordinator.

Rhule hedged when asked who won the competition, but added: "Out of respect to both guys, . . .but I will say the elder statesman won."

— Rhule said linebacker Josh Bynes's absence was a "short-term thing" after he was carted out of practice Tuesday.

Otherwise, there wasn't much change in the injury report, with linebacker Denzel Perryman still out, along with running backs Reggie Bonnafon and Rodney Smith.

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