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OTA Notebook: Dave Canales connecting with staff, even in hot yoga class

Dave Canales

CHARLOTTE — Dave Canales is here to coach a football team, but there's not a game that counts for months.

So this summer, that means getting to know his players and co-workers where they are, even if that's a pre-dawn hot yoga studio.

Defensive passing game coordinator Jonathan Cooley didn't have any background with Canales, but found out how his new boss rolls when he came in sweaty one morning after his usual 5:45 a.m. hot yoga class, and Canales started asking questions.

"I walked out of the locker room, and he was like, he was like, 'You just come from the sauna?'" Cooley recalled Tuesday. "I was like, no, I do yoga, and he was like, well, when do you go?"

Informing anyone of the time of the class, much less the temperature is usually enough to scare them off. But Canales asked Cooley what time and what day.

"Well, every day I've got to come to work, I'm going to go to yoga, and he was like, well, I'll come," Cooley said. "And so the next morning, he showed up on a Thursday bright and early, and he was ready to go."

Since then, Canales has been to class with Cooley four straight weeks, an example of the intentional way he has gone about building relationships since coming here, and meeting a defensive staff he didn't really know. And that's just one example, as he's taken a number of steps to find out about people in his own hyper-positive, hyper-present style.

"It's been cool to develop that relationship, and that's my example," Cooley said. "I know a lot of other people have personal examples; we had the Kenny Chesney concert, and he'll have people over to his house; he just got moved in. So that's been the one thing getting used to because the football hasn't really changed for us on our side of the ball. But creating that connection and that closeness, somebody that you can believe in from that standpoint will allow you to go an extra mile when you don't necessarily feel like it."

Cooley laughed and said his instructors aren't afraid to call out people for sub-par efforts, and Canales was no exception, even if they didn't know who he was at first.

"They were like, this is your buddy, Dave, that's his name, right?" Cooley said. "And then I get a text like, oh, I didn't realize that was the head coach, and I was like, yeah. So he's known in there. . . .

"If you wake up at 5:45 and do an exercise, you're kind of really about it. And most people on the mat are kind of like in their own little zone. So it's not much of a distraction."

He joked that if anyone was thinking about joining them in the advanced class (they use weights, too), "there's a waitlist."

But Canales has taken a lot of extra steps like that as he tries to prepare for his first season here. The head coach was asked Tuesday about players who were away from the voluntary OTA workouts, and he said he's called to talk to a few of them, not to ask about their whereabouts or pressure them into showing up, but to continue to make a connection.

"What I have done is just kind of reached out and touched base with them, making sure they're doing all right and just kind of hearing what their life has looked like," Canales explained. "That's what I'm concerned with is that during this time, we don't just have this huge personal absence of just not connecting. And, from the reports I've gotten, the coaches have also had chances to reach out and connect with guys. Just so they know that something good's happening here, and I just don't want them to come back in with us and just not have a feel for the whole thing and what's happening. So just like a once a week, I just check in with, with a lot of those guys."

And he hopes that by going to the mat with them in yoga, or making that extra call in the offseason, he can build something lasting.

— Attendance has been good throughout OTAs, but a few veterans are away from the team for personal reasons (not that they need one to miss the voluntary workouts).

And there were a few players working on the side Tuesday, including rookie receiver Xavier Legette (dealing with a hamstring pull) and running back Miles Sanders (a minor heel issue).

Next week's minicamp is mandatory, and that's when everyone is expected to be on hand.

— Speaking of Sanders, running backs coach Bernie Parmalee said he's been encouraged by what he's seen from the veteran back this offseason.

They have a crowded room, with incumbent starter Chuba Hubbard and second-round pick Jonathon Brooks (among others), but Parmalee said they've approached the competitive situation in a healthy way.

"We know going in that everyone's competing," Parmalee said. "It's a hungry group. Got a really good group, and usually, whatever (opportunities) they get, these guys know, they got to nail the opps, they're gonna have fun doing it.

"There's no ego in our room. That's awesome because that's hard to find."

Sanders is coming off a down season (which was part of an across-the-board struggle on offense last year). But he's also just a year removed from a 1,269-yard rushing season with the Eagles. As a former player (he spent nine years in the league with the Dolphins and Jets), Parmalee could identify with coming back from a disappointing season. And in talking to Sanders, he liked what he heard.

"He's going to be fine," Parmalee said. "Had a conversation with him. He's awesome. He's ready. We're looking forward to now. We're not looking at nothing in the past, and he's ready to go.

"It's like anything else. If you think you're going to go unscathed in a career, you're wrong; there's going to be highs, and there's going to be lows. It's what you do, how you move in those moments, and that's what we talk about."

— The Panthers spent part of Tuesday's practice working on the new kickoff setup, which figures to be an evolving thing all offseason and into the season as teams adapt to the radical new rules.

And while some special teams coaches have toyed with the idea of using a position player to kick for an extra coverage player (like the Panthers did last year with linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill kicking off), Canales said they haven't found anyone who can kick accurately enough for that yet. Rookie Harrison Mevis is getting all that work now, with Eddy Piñeiro absent.

"Until we found somebody who could really control the ball with this foot, I don't know if we have that player," Canales said. "So right now, we're just trying to focus on, you know, getting Harrison out there to place it where he needs to be."

View photos of the Panthers' OTAs on Tuesday.

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