CHARLOTTE — After reducing their roster to 53 players, the Panthers were on the field Monday for a "bonus" Week 1 practice in preparation for the Raiders.
"Guys came in this morning, were attentive in meetings, and were excited to get started," Rhule said.
While the Panthers claimed three players off waivers on Sunday, defensive back Rasul Douglas, defensive end Shareef Miller, and offensive tackle Trent Scott still have to clear COVID-19 testing protocols before they can begin practicing.
As for the rest of the 53-man roster, Rhule mentioned there was an emphasis on special teams. He wants to have players who are going to put the requisite effort into the game's third phase. Cornerback Stantley Thomas-Oliver III, a 2020 seventh-round pick, figures it's a big part of why he made the roster.
"I kind of learned that in college, how big special teams was and how important that is to make a team," Thomas-Oliver said. "So I went into it trying to find a role on that first."
Now that it's a game week, the Panthers can turn their attention to preparing to defeat an opponent. The Raiders have experienced some turnover, but there are still ways to scout their schemes.
"We'll work off the tape," Rhule said. "Our pro personnel department has done a great job with the advanced scouting and trying to do the best we can."
Regardless, Rhule wants the Panthers to focus on themselves and the things they can control: effort and preparation.
"(Y)ou have to trust in your system, go back, make adjustments on the sideline, and go out and play," Rhule said. "I'm sure that our guys will attack whatever wrinkles are thrown at them."
In the same vein, no one knows much about the Panthers either. That's part of why Rhule has been reluctant to answer questions about his team's schemes. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady and defensive coordinator Phil Snow have called plays elsewhere, but Carolina's specific personnel will make the Xs and Os different.
"I don't think it's a huge advantage. I think it's a small one," Rhule said. "Once the ball is kicked off, there's only so many ways to play offense, play defense."
Rhule has a couple of meaningful connections to the Raiders that dates back to his time at Temple. In his first year as a head coach there, now-Las Vegas general manager Mike Mayock spoke to Temple's players about preparing for the NFL Draft. And Rhule considered Jon Gruden a "mentor from afar," as the Raiders' head coach spent a lot of time advising him — both when Rhule was at Temple and when he had a previous NFL coaching opportunity.
"I really respect Jon Gruden," Rhule said. "I'm very grateful to him. It'll be an honor to take the field with someone that's done everything he's done."
If there's one thing Rhule knows about Gruden, it's that he'll emphasize the run game. Running back Josh Jacobs totaled 1,150 yards and seven rushing touchdowns in 13 games last season. A physical rusher, some thought Jacobs was snubbed for offensive rookie of the year. Meanwhile, Carolina's run defense finished 2019 last in the league, allowing 5.2 yards per carry.
"To me, this is a good opportunity to go out and show how far we've come in defending the run," Rhule said.
NEWS AND NOTES
— Rhule expects tight end Ian Thomas (toe) to be available for Sunday's game. Thomas was in a red practice jersey to signify he's injured on Monday, but Rhule said the tight end was moving around well.
— Guard Dennis Daley has an ankle sprain. Rhule was unsure if the injury is more day-to-day or week-to-week, but it sounded like Daley's status for Sunday is up in the air.
— Cornerback Eli Apple (foot/ankle) is headed to injured reserve. Defensive lineman Efe Obada has been re-signed to take his place on the roster.
— With both Will Grier and PJ Walker on the active roster, the backup quarterback role could change from week to week. Rhule said Brady and quarterbacks coach Jake Peetz would take the lead on that decision, but coaches would like to see the two players compete in practice before making a firm choice.
View photos from Monday morning's practice as Carolina prepares for the Raiders in Week 1.