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Carolina Panthers

Takeaways from head coach Matt Rhule's virtual press conference

After sitting down with new team reporter Kristen Balboni for a virtual 1-on-1 interview Wednesday morning, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule joined a video press conference with local media to start the afternoon.

From an office in his house, Rhule addressed the addition of Teddy Bridgewater, other moves in free agency, draft preparation, and more.

Here are a few of the top takeaways from the 25-minute session.

More on the quarterbacks

As he told Balboni earlier, Rhule reiterated the decision to release quarterback Cam Newton was difficult, but it was one the organization felt was best moving forward.

"I think at the end of the day, I really enjoyed getting to know Cam, and seeing the work he was putting in coming back from the injury. I mean, there's certainly no doubt he was grinding his way back," Rhule said. "I just think that we felt that in the end, it was the best thing for our team to move forward. And I have no doubt that he'll play well."

Rhule stressed that it wasn't a comparison between Newton and Bridgewater and that the decision to switch quarterbacks also was not a scheme-fit issue. But Bridgewater's effective play plus his previous relationship with offensive coordinator Joe Brady from their time with the Saints made Bridgewater the best option at this point to move forward.

"Obviously, his relationship with Joe — knowing the offense, the things that he's done in this offense — it just made sense to us," Rhule said.

Bridgewater went 5-0 as a starter for the Saints last season, completing 67.9 percent of his passes for 1,384 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Temple factor

It's been well documented how connected Rhule is with new additions like wide receiver Robby Anderson, linebacker Tahir Whitehead, and quarterback P.J. Walker — among others. And while Rhule intimated some of that was overblown, he did say the coaching staff as a whole mattered for attracting different free agents.

"It's probably very similar to seeing some of the guys who were here end up at some of the other places where coaches knew them," Rhule said. "We wouldn't have gotten a lot of those guys if it wasn't for our staff. P.J. didn't just have (interest from) Carolina. P.J. Walker had seven teams trying to sign him. And we had three quarterbacks on the roster at the time, but I think P.J. knows me, believes in me, believes in our staff, happens to live right here in Charlotte — his girlfriend's a teacher in Charlotte. So that was one.

"Robby Anderson had a lot of places to go," Rhule added. "But I think he saw Joe Brady's offense as a chance for him to really break out."

On his introductory virtual press conference, Anderson credited Rhule for helping him get back into Temple's program after he was ruled academically ineligible for the 2014 season.

"He stood on the table for me numerous times, and stood on the table with the university to get me back into school to open up that door for me to right my wrongs and get to be in the position that I'm in today," Anderson said.

"Positionless" players

In February at the NFL Combine, Rhule stressed the importance of "positionless players" – the kind of guys who can't be defined by a single position, but instead fill multiple roles on the team. So far, Rhule has stuck to that commitment, especially with the addition of Whitehead at linebacker.

During his past stops in Oakland and Detroit, Whitehead started at both middle and outside linebacker positions, which is exactly the kind of versatility the Panthers are looking for as they decide how to replace retired linebacker Luke Kuechly.

"I think when you start saying, 'Oh, this guy's got to play this,' then you're never playing guys that are the next best player," Rhule said. "I think we just felt like, hey, let's get the best couple of players."

Over the coming months, Rhule and his staff will need to determine how the defense will utilize Whitehead, as well as linebackers Shaq Thompson and Jermaine Carter – who Rhule also sees as potential candidates to line up in the middle. 

Initially, Rhule's plan was to "cross train" all of the linebackers throughout the spring and summer to test out who looked best at each position, but with offseason training delayed, that process may have to change.

Shoring up the secondary

Another one of those versatile new additions to the defense comes in the form of defensive back Juston Burris.

"He was a guy that we earmarked early, almost the first day (of free agency)," Rhule said. "Had some experience. (Defensive run game coordinator) Al Holcomb had been with him (in Cleveland), but he's a guy who's been a nickel, who's been a corner, who's been a safety."

At least initially, it looks like Burris will be slotted in at safety, playing opposite Tre Boston – another key player the Panthers locked up last month.

"I thought those were pivotal, pivotal things for us on defense, because we needed that stability at safety," Rhule said. 

Now, as Carolina turns its attention to the NFL Draft, Rhule said one of the Panthers' top priorities is to continue building depth on the defensive side of the ball.

McCaffrey's a centerpiece

On Monday, general manager Marty Hurney was asked about Christian McCaffrey and a potential contract extension. While Rhule declined to get into specifics of contracts, saying he lets Hurney handle those deals, the head coach is understandably excited to work with one of the league's most versatile players.

"I think Christian McCaffrey is a centerpiece player that you can build around," Rhule said. "And I think he really builds to the culture that you want to have within the building."

Rhule said he expects Brady to be able to scheme up formations and plays for McCaffrey, utilizing him as a bit of a wildcard on the offense.

"I hired Joe because I know that he's going to utilize guys to their strengths," Rhule said, noting that in McCaffrey's case, "he's a tailback-slash-wideout, he can do it all — returner. So I'm anxious to get him out there and anxious to build this thing around him. I think he's going to be a special player for us."