Skip to main content

OTA Notebook: A chance to build relationships

DJ Moore

CHARLOTTE — Football practice is the part of OTAs that's easiest to see.

But for Panthers head coach Matt Rhule, it's only part of the work.

He said having the chance to play golf with some of the players, or to go to a group dinner gives him a better appreciation for his job — and it's something he's not taking for granted.

"I think the biggest thing that I've tried to do this OTAs is really focus on players and focus on my relationship with the players," Rhule said. "Whether that's going golfing every week with a different group of guys, or going to dinner or spending time. I think those are things that have helped me have success in the past."

This spring, that's meant golf outings with team leaders like Shaq Thompson, Christian McCaffrey, and Jeremy Chinn, or a round with different position groups. But it's also as simple as sharing a meal, or a locker room ping pong tournament (he declared himself the champion of the 45-and-over division).

Walking into his first NFL job as a pandemic hit, Rhule wasn't able to enjoy that kind of interaction, since the league's COVID-19 restrictions kept people from being able to gather in groups.

Now, there's a distinct team-building vibe, and Rhule's trying to take advantage of it and focus on "what really matters."

"Having interpersonal contact is key," Rhule said. "No one can minimize; I don't care what business you're in. I don't care if it's the journalism business, media business or teaching business, or policing and law; life's about relationships. And you build relationships with propinquity and proximity and spending time together.

"I will never underestimate the impact of the first few years of not being able to go out and not being able to go out and sit down with Shaq. . . . Those conversations are vital. And so I'm just grateful to be a chance to do those things now."

— Wednesday's open practice featured a ton of team drills, and Rhule was impressed with the play of quarterback Sam Darnold in them.

Darnold had a sharp day passing, including a deep connection with second-year wideout Terrace Marshall Jr. for a touchdown.

Rhule said it was perhaps Darnold's "best day of practice" since he's been here — a sign of progress picking up new coordinator Ben McAdoo's offense. The key is still going to be eliminating what Rhule refers to as the "catastrophic mistakes," and that job isn't as simple when he's practicing against cornerbacks the caliber of Jaycee Horn and Donte Jackson.

Rhule isn't the only one to see it, either.

"He's been more calm, I would say, under duress," wide receiver DJ Moore said of Darnold's work this offseason.

— The Panthers had another distinguished alumni in the house Wednesday, with former linebacker Luke Kuechly watching practice and addressing the team afterward.

Kuechly's the latest in a string of former players making appearances, as former linebacker Thomas Davis has been around, and former defensive tackle Kawann Short was here last week.

Luke Kuechly

— Offensive lineman Brady Christensen said he never got a nickname from Cam Newton last year, but he caught one Wednesday from teammate Taylor Moton. When a reporter slipped up saying Christensen's first name, Moton laughed and said he'd have to start calling Christensen "Big Birdie."

"Not on the golf course," Christensen joked, adding that he got used to answering to anything that started with a B last year, when Joe Brady was the offensive coordinator.

Moton was on the topic of nicknames after revealing that he calls new center Bradley Bozeman "Big Bear."

Related Content