CHARLOTTE — Panthers head coach Matt Rhule thinks his team is "significantly better" today than when they went to Indianapolis.
They're still not close to the team he wants them to be in terms of self-discipline.
Rhule liked the work his starters got in joint practices with the Colts, and some performances of the backups who played in Sunday's preseason opener.
But he's still a little salty about the fact the Panthers committed 10 penalties, including seven false starts, despite emphasizing his "Don't Beat Ourselves" mantra throughout camp.
He even took his motivational device to the joint practices against the Colts, but he longs for the day when he doesn't need a gimmick to remind his players to play cleanly and intelligently.
"I don't care if it's the first day; 10 penalties is 10 penalties," Rhule said. "I'm kind of a simple guy, a process guy; I think everything happens for a reason. All of our starters were walking up and down the sideline yesterday upset and saying: 'Don't beat ourselves with penalties and we'll win this game.' Why do things like that happen? Everything goes from being from coach Rhule's process, or coach Rhule's standard or brand, to the Carolina Panthers.
"The more we get our team to understand, it's not about what you dress for game-day, or what they put about you on Twitter or two or three plays you made in the game, it's about what you play-in and play-out, the better we're going to be. I think culturally, organizationally, players came out of that game improved, because they're like, 'Hey, if we don't beat ourselves, we have a chance to win.' Whether that's a decision we made or a missed assignment or a penalty, that was the message coming out of the game last night. It's what I've been preaching since I got here, and it has to grow. It doesn't happen overnight. So we'll stay on it until the day it looks perfect."
The game might not have looked perfect, especially at the end as the Colts came back to win late, but Rhule was still encouraged by the trip.
After a slow start to the joint workouts with the Colts last Thursday, he liked the way his team responded to the challenge Friday, both the defense and quarterback Sam Darnold and the first offense.
"Significantly better," he said of the week. "The first day, we kind of went out there and dipped our toe in the water. And the Colts didn't dip their toe in the water. The second day, if you were on the defensive field, they said, 'We're going to forge an identity.' I think offensively, seeing Sam in a two-minute, take us down the field to kick a field goal to win it, I thought we came out of the second day thinking we were a better football team than we were yesterday. . . .
"We're certainly not where we want to be, but in the totality of why we did that, we're significantly better than when we got on the plane last Wednesday."
They'll get another chance at improvement this week, with the Ravens rolling in for a couple of days of joint practices in Spartanburg to close training camp.
– NOTES: Rhule did not have an update on cornerback Troy Pride Jr. who suffered a right knee injury during Sunday's game and had to be carted off. Pride was getting an MRI Monday afternoon in Charlotte.
The Panthers could get a few injured players back for this week's practices with the Ravens.
He was optimistic about the status of guard Deonte Brown and linebackers Julian Stanford and Clay Johnston. He didn't expect linebacker Denzel Perryman or guard Matt Kaskey to be ready, and said he didn't want to rush veteran cornerback A.J. Bouye since he had such a good offseason (though Bouye's getting closer to a return).
He also said that while he hasn't made any decisions about playing rotations for Saturday's game against the Ravens, he did want to see more of Will Grier this week, whether it was in practice or the game.
View the best photos from pregame, the sidelines and on the field from Sunday's preseason game against Indianapolis.