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Notebook: Class is in session as Panthers take the field for rookie minicamp

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CHARLOTTE-- As players began their individual drills on Friday, their first day of rookie minicamp with the Carolina Panthers, coaches reiterated multiple times, lean on what you know for now; we'll adjust as we go.

That was all Dave Canales wanted from guys during the opening practice. The head coach told them from the opening huddle, today it just about introducing them to NFL work and the way this coaching staff runs practices. Whether that was explaining something as minute as how to line up a helmet for opening stretches, or how to break the huddle in the cadence the staff wants, Friday was an introduction to the NFL; the football will come.

"I could see definitely that there are some big eyes out there in the drills, as guys have hopped in and are starting to learn the work that's required of them and I just, you know, gave all the rookies a heads up on the type of guys that are here, the character of this team. Our best players happen to be our hardest workers and really proud to say that and to introduce all them into our football family," Canales shared following practice.

Friday saw the entire Panthers draft class, plus 18 undrafted free agents and four tryout players on the field. Perhaps just as importantly, were the numerous scouts on hand. Having eyes on each player for future evaluation was just as important to today as any learned drill.

When things inevitably happen during the upcoming season, Canales explained, "we have to be ready to add players.

"So, we like to get our eyes on them in person. So, these individual drills really for us is like an extended try out type of thing where we can see the movement skills. How do they translate, how do they transition into our drills, can we see them executing the movements that we're looking for? So that's really the way to classify kind of what we were doing.

The group session, offense versus defense, was an abbreviated, with a noticeable focus on the details more than the drills; cadence, lining up in the huddle, tempo with which they break the huddle, etc. With only two days of rookies on the field though, before Phase 2 of the offseason program continues next week, this time is about the syllabus more than anything.

"The heart and nature of it wasn't to get into competitive periods against the defense, because we have to really gauge the fitness level of the players as they come in…this also gives us a chance to kind of evaluate that, as we come back into Monday and now they're working with all these men who have been training together for weeks, kind of figure out how much information to give these guys at a time.

"We really keep it high level and we try not to overdo a million formations, like we'll get to that. We'll have a lot of variety and that's the way we attack teams with our formations and personnel. But right now it's very high level. I want them to just have heard it, you know, and I know that they may not get it the first time they go through it, but we'll have all of phase three with OTAs to do that. We'll have kind of like a final exam for the spring if you will in minicamp and then we'll start back over in training camp and be able to go through it twice then."

Brooks is taking in the mental game for now

Running back Jonathon Brooks, drafted in the second round by the Panthers, is sidelined for the time being, as he recovers from an ACL injury last November. While he waits to jump back in the drills, he's still running around, albeit as a self-appointed errand boy.

"For me just being a teammate, being there for them getting the running backs, O-line, anybody water, just doing as much as I can for them," Brooks said Friday. "I can't physically be out there to help them. But, for me to help them off the field, that means a lot to me."

That doesn't mean he isn't locked-in on the playbook as well though. As each of the running backs on the field go through a play, Brooks is never far behind, taking things at a more medically approved pace.

"It's good to see the NFL tempo, see the plays here," Brooks said. "It's a lot different from the system I came from. So hearing the plays, really just learning the playbook and getting a lot of mental reps and visually seeing myself doing it. So whenever it does come time for me to take my first practice rep, I'm not just in a whirlwind lost, screws flying out of my head."

The Panthers have a bevy of running backs currently on the roster, including one undrafted free agent. Canales and run game coordinator Harold Goodwin, have both preached numerous times that they want a full stable of backs on the roster. The head coach emphasized the belief again on Friday, telling reporters, "in my experience, we need all the backs, we need all of them to contribute."

So even if Brooks can't be on the field working right now, he wants the rookie to take part in every facet within his ability, giving him as much as he can carry before implementing him into the drills later in the offseason and learn what's expected of him now.

"Just being aware of those things and also just the work ethic, the requirements that we're going to put on him, being that he's able to be on the field just to kind of see what the drills look like and how we piece it all together. And of course, in the classroom, for us, it's about those core concepts.

"So those are the things, if we can come away from that in this camp, then that's a success before he gets back into the full group on Monday."

Added Brooks, "There's always stuff to prove, but for me, I just need to get healthy and learn the play book and do what I need to do to, just get healthy and get right for the season.

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Everyone was on hand to start camp

The Panthers were able to sign all seven of their draft picks by Thursday evening, meaning the full class was present and participating in practice on Friday. The push to get them all signed before rookie minicamp was important, Canales said, and a weight off everyone.

"Oh, it's great. Just focus on football," Canales praised. "Focus on this phase right now, this camp, and then focus on next week, introducing the group into the rest of the team.

"And so just really having the guys, knowing that the contract being settled just allows us to really just focus on the football."

View photos of the 2024 rookie class as they participate in drills on the first day of minicamp.