CHARLOTTE – Linebacker Shaq Thompson might have brought the thunder after Sunday's loss to the Buccaneers. But for Matt Rhule, the reality of coaching a team so young on one side of the ball requires a more patient approach sometimes.
Cornerback Rasul Douglas said after the game that Thompson "basically cursed everybody out and said we didn't fight hard enough," and Thompson said Monday he expected to see the results of that speech on the practice field this week when they began preparations for Detroit.
"I know my teammates will show up Wednesday," Thompson said plainly. "That's my message. I know they're going to show up. That's going to be their response to my message. We're going to be ready to go."
That was appropriately measured, compared to the fire-and-brimstone from the day before. Rhule said he thought Thompson's speech was "warranted and normal," after what he saw as a team that "let go of the rope a little bit" in giving up 17 points in the fourth quarter.
"I think Shaq's development is really accelerating right now as a leader, as he sees himself in the room," Rhule said Monday. "He's the veteran, but most importantly, he does things right, and as right as he can do them. That, to me, gives him a lot of credibility."
For Rhule, there's a bit of a long game at play here, which makes screaming and yelling the kind of thing you can't do every day or as often as you might like. Coaching a team with so many rookies playing outsized roles makes some degree of mistakes inevitable, so he tries to tailor his message to each player.
"I would say my tone and message is probably different every week, every day. I should say my tone is different. My message is always the same, it just comes down to where we are, and how did we play," Rhule said. "What I want to get out of everyone on our team's head, it's not like (being) flat, it's not like all these emotional things. We played the first half, it was 17-17, we played good football, not great football. And it was a two-score game going into the fourth quarter. We've been down two scores and come back and won, it just got away from us. . . .
"A lot of our young players are doing some great things. So I just try to talk to each player individually, as their own person, and just communicate, 'Here's what's expected and here's where I think you can improve.'
"The one thing I'm trying to get across to them is if we're coaching you, we think you're a really good player. If we're telling you what you're doing right and you're doing wrong and what you can do better, we think you're a good player and continue to play even better. That's an emphasis for us."
Rookie defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos was caught out of position on an aggressive play-call against the run, and a missed tackle behind him later, Bucs running back Ronald Jones had gone 98 yards for a touchdown. It stood as evidence of the collective nature of defense Rhule's trying to preach (each player has to do their job well for it to work), or as he said simply Monday: "We have to be more precise, and more detailed than we were."
Willing to "explore" options on Donte Jackson
After cornerback Donte Jackson left Sunday's game because of his troublesome toe, Rhule suggested Monday that they might consider a different strategy.
The problem has bothered Jackson most of the year. He hasn't played every snap in a game since Week 2, and while they've tried to manage his practice reps at times, Jackson participated fully last week. But he aggravated the injury during the game, which didn't help the late-game letdown.
"I feel for Donte, it's been a tough cycle," Rhule said when asked if he'd consider resting Jackson to allow him time to heal. "I think we would explore all things moving forward for him.
"He cares and he tries, and he tries to get out there and play, and I respect that about him."
The Panthers' lack of depth in the secondary exists when Jackson's well, but when he's out, it becomes even more apparent.
While Rhule stopped short of saying anything definitive, the fact he's willing to consider parking such an important part speaks to the persistence of the injury.
View the best photos from Carolina's Week 10 game against Tampa Bay.