CHARLOTTE — The Panthers are asking Cade Mays to do a lot of things for a rookie.
He at least has the benefit of being used to moving around, as well as a familiar face as he gets adjusted.
The sixth-round pick from Tennessee played all five offensive line positions in college (including his first two years at Georgia), so the Panthers are already getting looks at him at center, guard, and tackle as he progresses from rookie minicamp into OTAs.
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule noted that Mays was "one of the few guys playing three positions," and that versatility will be essential for Mays as they develop an offensive line group that also included a couple of free agent pickups and first-rounder Ikem Ekwonu.
While most of his recent experience in college was at tackle, Mays will likely get most of his work at guard and center, as he has in recent practices.
Mays said that being able to play more than one spot was "essential," since the fight for roster spots will be more competitive this season. After adding guard Austin Corbett and center Bradley Bozeman in free agency and then drafting Ekwonu and Mays, it's a deeper offensive line group than the Panthers have had in the past.
"I like to know what everyone's doing, from the right tackle to the left tackle. It's just really important, if somebody goes down," Mays said. "In college, if the left tackle would go down, and I was at right guard, I would go to left tackle, that's just how it had to be."
When he worked alongside Ekwonu at minicamp, the two got to know each other well in a hurry, since there were only four linemen here that weekend, and they took a lot of reps in a short amount of time. They had also met while flying back from the scouting combine, jamming a couple of large bodies into a pair of overmatched airplane seats.
But he also walked in the door with some background with quarterback Matt Corral, as the two were familiar from their days as high school recruits.
"We were friends coming through recruiting and stuff, and it's cool to have a friendship in high school and then bridge it later down the road in the NFL; it's really cool," Mays said.
Mays said they met as part of a massive group text when they were a part of the ESPN 300 list of top recruits, and they stayed in touch from time to time through their years in the SEC.
And because they were in the same conference, Mays was also familiar with Corral's work. Corral threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns as Ole Miss beat Tennessee 31-26 last October.
"I just remember he was a competitor," Mays said. "He was a really vocal leader. He did a great job at Ole Miss and we played him this year. It seemed like we couldn't tackle him. He's a competitor, and he loves the game of football."
They're both growing into new roles now, but having a familiar face around makes the transition easier.