SPARTANBURG — The Panthers certainly had bigger positional needs, when they used a second-round pick on wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr..
But the early stages of training camp suggest that he could potentially become an even bigger matchup problem for opponents, as they work to create a role for the rookie alongside their talented starters at the position.
Marshall made a couple of highlight-reel catches in Thursday morning's practice, the kind of plays that would justify using the 59th pick in the draft on someone who didn't have a clear path to an immediate starting job. There were other positions at which a rookie might have walked right into the lineup, but the Panthers were convinced Marshall was too good to pass up. It looked that way Thursday.
"He's made some big catches," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said after practice. "Like any rookie he's going to have good days and bad days. And today looked like a good day."
Marshall took the praise in stride, and responded in his typical low-key manner, saying: "It means a lot, but I've got to keep stacking up days. This is just one day. I've got to keep taking everything one day at a time and keep building off this day."
He's been working in the slot during camp, which he has experience with from his days at LSU. It's not unheard of for a player of his size to line up inside, but he clearly has the chance to create a mismatch over a smaller corner. When he went over the top of the 6-foot A.J. Bouye down the sideline, it showed how he could use his reach.
He's listed at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, though he thinks he's about 10 pounds heavier than that. But it's not just height and weight that give him that kind of advantage. At LSU's pro day this spring, he was measured with a 78 1/8-inch wingspan, and 9 1/2-inch hands.
Rhule paused for a moment when asked about Marshall having an NFL body, but quickly pointed out that the 21-year-old is still growing. "He's just going to get bigger and stronger. He's a big kid, and he's going to be quite a specimen as the years go on."
And with Moore and Anderson coming off 1,000-yard seasons, the immediate need for the Panthers was to figure out how to replace the multifaceted role Curtis Samuel played last year. Marshall's not a like-for-like replacement because of his size, but Rhule said he thinks allowing him to work inside will help ease Marshall through the transition to the pro game.
"They're doing a nice job of identifying a role for him and saying: 'Hey, just concentrate on this right now," Rhule said. "He's a very coachable young man, works hard, so I'd say all signs are positive so far."
Marshall played in the slot and outside at LSU, and said he'd happily go back inside if that's what the Panthers wanted him to do.
"Especially if I'm moving in to the slot from back outside, that's a big advantage over the DBs," Marshall said. "So I'll just use my strengths to my advantage.
"I'm comfortable anywhere on the field. I'll do whatever coach asks me to, wherever he puts me in a position to succeed."
Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady did that at LSU, when Marshall was in a similarly stacked receivers room. Playing alongside future first-rounders Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase, Marshall had 13 touchdowns in 2019 for the national champions.
Working under his old coach should also help, and Marshall said he was confident there would be enough opportunities for all of them.
"I feel like it benefits not only me, but it benefits everybody playing alongside me," he said of his familiarity with Brady's style. "Everybody eats; that's the mentality from Joe Brady. He likes to feed everybody the ball and make sure everybody's getting their share."
"I just feel like as long as I stay focused, keep my head down and keep grinding, stay in my playbook, come out here and execute and do what my coaches ask, everything's going to play out well."
View photos from Thursday's first practice of training camp at Wofford.