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OTA notebook: Jaycee Horn appreciates the faith, wants to pay it back

Jaycee Horn

CHARLOTTE— Jaycee Horn knows the 22 games he's played in the NFL is a low number for three seasons. He knows there is an expectation for him to stay healthy for a full year, and an expectation that his presence on the field can make a marked difference for the secondary. He doesn't need to hear the discourse or see the social media posts. He's aware.

"I know that without the fans saying that or anybody else," Horn said Monday, speaking to local media after the first day of Panthers organized team activities (OTA's). "I watch tape, I know what I'm capable of and I still feel like I'm one of the best DB's in this league and, I just got to be out there to show it. So, that's what I'm looking forward to doing."

The Panthers believe in Horn as well, using the fifth-year option for the 2021 first-round pick (eighth overall). For Horn, who said he lets the front office and agents handle the details, having the deal done was a sign of faith from the organization, that Horn—who has had 85 tackles, four interceptions and 13 passes defended in his 22 games played—can be the present and future of this defense.

"It felt good just knowing they believe in me, seeing the work I put in. Now it's just staying on the field, controlling what I can control and just playing good football," Horn said.

General manager Dan Morgan got the deal done during the draft, well ahead of the deadline, because it wasn't a hard decision.

"I just felt like it was one of those things, you see Jaycee around here, the work that he's putting in, the dedication just being here every single day, busting his ass," Morgan said at the time. "He deserved it. I think, obviously, he's had some tough stretches with injuries, but it's not due to a lack of work or a lack of commitment from Jaycee. So, we're excited about him. We're excited about his future and just really excited for him."

Horn has changed his offseason routine, in hopes of being at his best come the start of the season. The cornerback has put an extra emphasis on weight training. While it's not necessarily a by-product of three seasons being cut short due to injury, it's a preventative measure.

"Just trying different things," Horn said. "Obviously, what I did the years before it didn't work, with dealing with injury and it could be some unluckiness, but just trying to switch some up and just start from ground zero and build my body back up."

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Panthers embracing the 2024 schedule

When the NFL announced the full regular season schedule last week, it was noticeable that the Panthers, who finished the 2023 season with the league's worst record, had received no prime time games for the upcoming slate.

Dave Canales and crew took note and moved on but haven't completely forgotten.

"You got to earn it, you got to earn prime time games," Canales said Monday of the schedule. "They don't just throw you on prime time games for no reason."

This is Canales' first season as a head coach, and first year with the Panthers. Those that were a part of the 2-15 season, like quarterback Bryce Young, know that it will be a journey back to the games with the most eyes.

"I don't feel like we have that luxury of looking at games like, oh we want this or ok, this. We got to go out and earn everything," Young said.

In Week 5, the Panthers will travel to Chicago to face off against the Bears. The matchup will pit the last two Number 1 overall picks, Young and Caleb Williams, against one another. It's a game that Young knows many have circled, but he's trying to treat just the same.

"I've known Caleb for a really long time," Young said. "I have a ton of respect for him, for his family. I have nothing but nothing but love for him. I'm super excited for him to be in the league, super excited for his future."

However, "it's not basketball," he continued. "There's no one-on-one matchups. This is a team sport. It's going to be the Panthers versus every team.

The league can flex certain games into a prime time spot, beginning in Week 5, and dependent on certain rules surrounding the broadcast partner. The point being, the opportunity is there for the Panthers to earn one of those flexed spots.

"We have to build something, a version of football that we're proud of and be able to accentuate the strengths and talents of our guys that we have," Canales said. "And then I think that the world will want to see that at some point, but we got a long way to go and we got to earn those type of opps (opportunities)."

Notes on those in Charlotte and beyond

Attendance for the first day of OTA's saw a good majority of the Panthers in the building. A handful of starters were out, as can be common during the voluntary workouts, though attendance has been good this offseason. Kicker Eddy Piñeiro was not at the first day of OTA's and Canales told the media on Monday that he has not talked to the incumbent kicker.

Mandatory minicamp begins on June 11. Until then, Canales said he is focused on those that are on the field, including rookie kicker, Harrison Mevis.

"I think we're just focusing on the guys we have. I'm glad we have Harrison Mevis here so that we can actually go through our field goal block period," Canales explained. "So just really focusing on the guys that are here. And I'm sure Eddy, he's got a plan for this whole thing."

Someone else on the field is outside linebacker Amaré Barno. He isn't practicing, while recovering from what Canales called "a pretty good ACL injury," suffered in Week 16 last season.

"He's progressing great," Canales said of Barno on Monday. "He was on the field doing some straight line running stuff today. He's been here every day working with our athletic training staff, just to build the strength around it, his flexibility and all that. The reports we're getting is great.

"So, he's training in the right direction. I don't have a specific date. But he is out there working, and he's got his cleats on doing stuff. So, I'm looking forward to getting him back up to speed, where we could have him in a practice at some point."

View photos of the Panthers' first day of OTAs on Monday.