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Carolina Panthers

Taking stock of the Panthers' rookie class – after Bryce Young

Jonathan Mingo, Jammie Robinson, DJ Johnson

CHARLOTTE – The new guys have made their way down to Spartanburg – a Panthers rite of passage to undergo training camp in hot and humid South Carolina weather.

Rookies reported to Wofford on Saturday morning, getting an early acclimation period before veterans make it down Tuesday. New head coach Frank Reich commences his first training camp Wednesday morning.

Carolina's bringing in more with its first-year group than just the highly-discussed first overall draft pick (and trust that there will be plenty of Bryce Young talk to come), so let's dive into everything there is to know about the rest of the class.

Jonathan Mingo, Shawn Jefferson

WR Jonathan Mingo (second round, 39th overall)

When the Panthers drafted Jonathan Mingo, they brought in size; his 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame is the largest on the Panthers' roster, 20 pounds heavier than Terrace Marshall Jr. and DJ Chark Jr., and an inch taller than Laviska Shenault Jr.

They also added a strong route runner who showed the ability to earn yards after the catch, as he averaged 16.9 yards per reception on 51 grabs in his final year at Ole Miss.

He's already taking to Marshall's post-practice habits, as the two frequently lingered after OTAs and minicamp to catch more balls from Young. And even though he'll likely compete with the 2021 second-rounder in training camp, Marshall said he'd taken the rookie "under his wing" during the spring program.

Wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson also shared optimism about Mingo, touting the maturity and intelligence he already had when he got to Charlotte.

"Early impressions with this kid is, he was everything we thought during the interview process, at the combine, and here on the 30 visit," Jefferson said. "He's intact. He's very mature for his age. Very, very smart. He picks up things well; he's a fast processor. So everything right now that we saw throughout the whole process is on par with what we're seeing. Again, this kid is a self-starter. He's tough. He fits our offense perfect."

DJ Johnson

OLB DJ Johnson (third round, 80th overall)

Perhaps a rookie with some of the heftiest weight on his shoulders, DJ Johnson was acquired by the Panthers through a trade-up with the Steelers in the third round of this year's draft. He's 24 years old and spent six years in college, playing at Oregon for the bulk of his time and splitting reps between outside linebacker and tight end. 

The 6-foot-4, 260-pound edge rusher will be one of many competing for that spot opposite two-time Pro Bowler Brian Burns in defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero's 3-4 scheme. Carolina needs someone – between Johnson, Marquis Haynes Sr., Yetur Gross-Matos, and Amaré Barno – to step up at outside linebacker, and Johnson was the fit that coaches selected to mold from the start while their veterans adjust to a new scheme. 

"He's a smart football player," Evero said. "The reports we got back from Oregon, bringing him into the building before the draft, getting to spend some time with him, (he's) a sharp guy. He's got the attributes we're looking for in terms of size, speed. He plays the game the way we'd like. So a lot of good things. But like all rookies, you know, he's got to adapt to this league. He's got to figure out the speed of the game, and he's got to learn our defense." 

Johnson said he's learning with the group and that he sees it as a benefit to their development individually. 

"It's been really good just because you kind of see who they're seeing it, because they're seeing it for the first time too sometimes," Johnson said. "So you could ask them kind of how their thought process goes when they first get through groups of certain things, whether it's a technique, a stance, or a certain coverage concept, and then you could bounce your ideas off of them. And we might learn something from each other."

G Chandler Zavala (fourth round, 114th overall)

Chandler Zavala has built-in chemistry with the Panthers' mainstay left tackle Ikem Ekwonu, as the two lined up beside each other at NC State in 2021. It bodes well for Zavala, the 6-foot-3, 322-pound guard that excited offensive line coach James Campen on draft day.

"He's been great," Ekwonu said of Zavala. "Asking all the right questions, always locked in in meetings, never scared to go talk to a vet and ask something if he needs to know something. He's picking (it) up well too."

Zavala missed minicamp with a pectoral injury and was placed on the active/PUP list Saturday. He can be activated at any time during camp. When he was in, he looked strong in workouts throughout OTAs and has that natural chemistry with Ekwonu. Still, the left guard spot is currently occupied by Brady Christensen and has been since the Panthers' improved line was trotted out for the 2022 season.

Right guard Austin Corbett is still recovering from the ACL injury and isn't expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. It has appeared throughout OTAs and minicamp that second-year Cade Mays will be first in line for the fill-in role until Corbett returns, but it wouldn't be false to assume Zavala will continue to compete with Mays and Christensen for a role throughout training camp.

Donte Jackson, Jaycee Horn, Jammie Robinson

S Jammie Robinson (fifth round, 145th overall)

Jammie Robinson came in with a strong endorsement from former South Carolina teammate and fellow defensive back Jaycee Horn. 

Horn recalled admiring Robinson's high school tape – big hits, interceptions, and the speed to return punts at the preps level – and he followed up on that solid first impression as the two were reunited on Carolina's roster. 

"He's just a dog, so I wanted him to come play with us," Horn said. "And now, I'm lucky he's on my team in the NFL."

Robinson, who started his college career with the Gamecocks before finishing up at Florida State, led the Seminoles in 2022 with 99 tackles, one sack, an interception, and a fumble recovery as a do-it-all defensive back. 

Evero said he saw Robinson's versatility as a testament to his football IQ, a good sign for the fifth-rounder when it comes to finding his role in the scheme. 

He joins an experienced position group behind Vonn Bell, Xavier Woods, and Jeremy Chinn, but the 5-foot-11, 190-pound safety can find multiple places to slot into the defense. 

"At Florida State, he was playing linebacker, nickel, safety; he was doing a lot of different things," Evero said. "He's got a good feel for playing different spots. Obviously, that shows his intelligence and what he can do above the neck. So yeah, we're excited about him."

Camerun Peoples

Undrafted free agents

The Panthers also brought in several players after the draft worth watching for fit in competitive position groups, including Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool, Appalachian State running back Camerun Peoples, and Oregon State cornerback Rejzohn Wright.

Pool left his college career as the Razorbacks' leading tackler and will join a group at training camp looking for some more depth behind leaders Shaq Thompson and Frankie Luvu at inside linebacker. That group includes free agent signee Kamu Grugier-Hill, last year's fourth-round draft pick Brandon Smith, and 2022 midseason acquisition Chandler Wooten.

Peoples will be looking for Carolina to carry four running backs and beat out last season's practice squader Spencer Brown, as Miles Sanders, Chuba Hubbard, and Raheem Blackshear appear locked in for 2023. At 6-foot-1, 217 pounds, Peoples' size resembles Brown (6-foot-0, 220), and Reich said in June that he's looking forward to seeing what he can do once pads come on at training camp.

Wright could make a name for himself in a room looking for quality depth behind Horn, Donte Jackson, CJ Henderson, and Keith Taylor Jr.. He made an impact in his final year at Oregon State, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors with 38 tackles, two interceptions, and nine pass breakups, and will compete with Stantley Thomas-Oliver III, Eric Rowe, Greg Mabin, Herb Miller, Mark Milton, and Colby Richardson at the position.

TrainingCampSchedule_16x9_NoCTA (2)

Training Camp Open Practices

The Panthers are heading back to Spartanburg, and you can watch the team in-person as they prepare for the season! 

Practices remain free and open to the public as always, including opportunities for autographs after each session. Fans can acquire advance tickets for access to daily practices via Ticketmaster. Walk-ups are welcome. Smart phones are not required.

Training Camp will include two days of joint practices with the New York Jets and new quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Wednesday, Aug. 9, and Thursday, Aug. 10.

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