CHARLOTTE – Sometimes less is more.
Head coach Ron Rivera believes that to be the case after the Panthers’ annual rookie minicamp wrapped up Saturday morning. Thirty-three players took part in this year’s camp – about 20 fewer than previous versions – and Rivera praised the early returns.
“I like it,” Rivera said after the team’s rookies, select veterans and invited tryouts put a cap on the camp. “It’s a smaller group, so we get to spend a lot more time with specific guys. We got to spend a lot of time with a lot of basic stuff; guys got a lot of reps at it whereas when you have two or three guys, you’re constantly rolling in guys and you never really get a good chance to focus.
“We got an opportunity to really focus, and it seems to be paying some dividends.”
The group got three off-field sessions over the two days, but the practices were on the shorter side with more of an emphasis on classroom work. Rivera liked what he saw from Carolina’s draft picks as well as veteran quarterback Kyle Allen.
“Retention was really good. I really appreciated what we did on both sides of the ball,” Rivera said. “The communication aspect on the defensive side was what you’re looking for, and on the offensive side just watching what Kyle (Allen) was doing, I really liked that. And Will (Grier) seemed to be picking things up really quickly. That was really good.
“Some real good stuff from the offensive line too with the young tackles we have, and watching the (pass) rush I liked what we got. Brian (Burns) looked good and Christian (Miller) did a nice job.”
The results will be put to the test beginning Monday when the rookies join the veterans as the offseason workout program rolls on.
“We’ll find out on Monday and Tuesday just exactly where they are because they’ll have a day off and then they’ll come in and be thrown in the mix with the rest of the guys,” Rivera said. “How they react to that, we’ll see.”
-One of the 12 tryouts enjoyed a highlight moment late in camp, and fittingly it was a local product. Cornerback Channing Stribling, who played just down the road at Butler High School and played in a 7-on-7 tournament on the practice fields back in the day before heading off to the University of Michigan, picked off a fellow 7-on-7 vet in Grier.
“It felt good,” said Stribling, who has spent time with five NFL teams and an Alliance of America Football team since going undrafted in 2017. “This is just another opportunity. I’m just blessed to be around an organization like this, so close to home. It was a great experience.”
The Panthers have two spots on their 90-man roster, so there’s the option to add a tryout player or two in the coming days.
-Grier and Allen ended practice taking turns executing third-down plays against nickel defenses. The constant during the reps was wide receiver Andre Levrone, who accounted for four of the five completions by the quarterbacks, highlighted by a deep ball from Allen beyond a trailing Stribling. Levrone is a University of Virginia product who spent time on the Ravens’ and Jaguars’ practice squads as an undrafted rookie in 2018.
-Undrafted rookie Elijah Holyfield didn’t catch many passes out of the backfield at Georgia, but he got a "Woo!" out of offensive coordinator Norv Turner for a juking route over the middle. The route, to be fair, was against first-year running backs coach Jake Peetz.
-The extra time for individual instruction was on display when defensive coordinator Eric Washington went through drills with just Burns, Miller and invited tryout Sione Teuhema, allowing Washington to work on the finer points of a pass rush technique with the small group. Adjacent, linebackers coach Steve Russ was working with three guys as well and had time to try to get the drill, well, just right.
“It’s like Goldilocks,” Russ told his group, sporting pads on his chest and both arms. “Porridge too hot. Porridge too cold. Just right.”
View photos from the final day of the 2019 rookie minicamp in Charlotte.