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Carolina Panthers

Rookie minicamp notebook: Finding new roles

Brandon Smith

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers knew on draft weekend they found a couple of defenders who can run. Now, they're trying to figure out how to apply those gifts.

Whether it was fourth-round linebacker Brandon Smith (who ran a 4.52 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds), or sixth-round defensive end Amaré Barno (who ran a 4.36 at 6-5, 246, the fastest of any defensive lineman), the Panthers went with traits.

So while Smith said much of his focus has been on the weakside linebacker position this weekend, he's preparing for everything.

"Really the will linebacker position is mainly what I've been working at for the past few days," he said. "But overall, just making sure I lock in on what everybody's responsibility is."

Because they're becoming known for moving defensive players around, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said they're still experimenting with both Smith and Barno. But while Barno will likely get to concentrate on pass-rushing, Smith could play a more versatile role.

"We think he's a guy who can be one of those chess-piece types of players," Rhule said of Smith. "A linebacker, who can also rush. Fast, athletic. Still a young player. We'll play him at all three linebacker positions.

"Part of this weekend was looking at him and Barno, seeing how they fit in with us. And we'll start (Smith) off at linebacker and let him learn that. It's probably one of the hardest positions to learn, and then see what else he can do."

The Panthers have tried to get bigger at linebacker the last few years (with Shaq Thompson adding weight a year ago), and Smith definitely adds bulk. He said he weighed in at 244 this week, but thinks he can play around 250.

— Because they're short at some positions in minicamp, the coaching staff has had to be flexible throughout the weekend.

With just four offensive linemen, assistant line coach Robert Kugler got snaps at guard (in the unpadded, non-contact practice) throughout the weekend.

Saturday morning, cornerbacks coach Evan Cooper and special teams assistant Cedric Whitaker got to show off their coverage skills. Cooper played cornerback for Rhule at Temple, while Whitaker played at Division III Texas Lutheran. Both wear cleats during practice so they can cut and run while they instruct, and be ready at a moment's notice.

"I always remind Cedric, that Coop was a Division I athlete, group of five, and Cedric was not," Rhule said with a laugh. "I appreciate that. We've got a great group of coaches who will make sure we can do whatever it takes to practice.

"Kugs has played right guard the entire weekend, so he's tired."

— The Panthers made a roster move Saturday morning, waiving undrafted rookie safety Drew Hartlaub prior to the second practice.

The bottom of the roster figures to churn in the coming weeks, as they continue to evaluate a number of options at several positions.

Rhule said they'd also evaluate the tryout players here this weekend and could sign some soon or keep their names handy for future moves over the next few weeks.

View photos from the Panthers second day of rookie minicamp at the Atrium Health practice fields.

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