Analysis: Panthers give us a glimpse of what life after Joe Brady could look like

Alaina Getzenberg
·5 min read

At the Senior Bowl a year ago, the Carolina Panthers’ staff was just getting to know each other.

Head coach Matt Rhule, offensive coordinator Joe Brady and former quarterbacks coach Jake Peetz interviewed an offensive assistant for a coaching job in a car. Other members of the staff were meeting each other for the first time. Sending an entire coaching staff down to Mobile, Alabama, for the week isn’t something that most NFL teams do, but in 2020, it was important for a brand new group.

This year, the Panthers are again at the Senior Bowl, but this time coaching the game and down three coaches due to COVID-19-related issues: Offensive coordinator Joe Brady, cornerbacks coach Evan Cooper and linebackers coach Mike Siravo didn’t make the trip.

In their absence, other young Panthers coaches are getting opportunities to showcase their abilities, including assistant defensive line coach Frank Okam. He’s filling in for defensive line coach Mike Phair, who the Panthers announced they let go this week.

Without Brady, who calls the plays for the Panthers’ offense, Rhule is giving four assistants who spent last year with the team an opportunity to each call a quarter of Saturday’s game. Running backs coach Jeff Nixon, wide receiver coach Frisman Jackson, offensive line coach Pat Meyer and tight ends coach Brian Angelichio will all get an opportunity to put on the offensive coordinator “hat.”

“In college, we did (have different coaches call plays) in scrimmages; we did it this year,” Rhule said. “I think it’s good for every coach to kind of call plays every once in a while. It’s good for their development, their experience, but also at the same time, gives you perspective of what it’s like.”

The opportunity comes after a month of Brady interviewing for almost every head coaching opening. With just the Houston Texans job left to be filled, he is almost guaranteed to be back with the Panthers next year.

While Brady may not be finding a new job this offseason, he will become an NFL head coach sooner rather than later. Having these coaches call plays is just another opportunity to experiment with a potential replacement for Brady, 31, in the years to come.

Nixon appeared to be a prime candidate to take over the job if Brady had left. He was the play caller at Baylor under Rhule and has significant experience as an offensive assistant. He is also a close friend of Rhule’s from high school.

Two of the assistant coaches getting play-calling opportunities this week — Nixon and Jackson — are Black. After the Indianapolis Colts promoted Marcus Brady to their offensive coordinator job, there are now four Black offensive coordinators in the entire NFL. Coaching in the Senior Bowl isn’t the biggest spotlight in the world, but in unusual circumstances, these coaches getting chances to call plays and show what they can do is an important opportunity.

Rhule could have given the job to new quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan, but he stuck with the coaches who have learned Carolina’s offense and show they deserve a chance.

The team’s four goals for the week, as described by Rhule, are to find out more about prospects, help the players perform to the best of their ability, improve as a coaching staff and integrate the coaches with the scouts better.

Though Rhule has been head coach for an entire year, the extended staff hasn’t had an opportunity to spend much time together. Prior to this week’s Senior Bowl, the coach had not seen the scouts in person since the scouting combine last February.

With new general manager Scott Fitterer being hired just over a week ago, everyone being at the Senior Bowl together allows for opportunities that have not previously existed due to COVID-19.

“When you’re together, you get a better sense for what we’re all looking for,” Rhule said. “Scott wants to bring our staff players to fit our systems. And so just for us just to continue to work to get on the same page in terms of, ‘Hey, this is what we’re looking for in a tight end, this is what we’re looking for, to sit down and just go through the roster face-to-face, not over Zoom call, has been really cool.”

Observations from Tuesday’s Senior Bowl practice:

Former Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman had a solid day at practice. He wasn’t perfect, but of the three quarterbacks on the Panthers’ team — Newman, Alabama’s Mac Jones and Texas A&M’s Kellan Mond, Newman had the best day overall. He looked consistent and accurate. The Georgia transfer is coming off taking months away from the field after opting out.

On the other hand, Jones had a mixed first day of performance. He had a number of missed throws and looked out of sorts at times. He did, however, stay well after practice to get extra practice snaps in. Rhule spoke with him a couple of times.

South Carolina wide receiver Shi Smith made an impressive diving catch on a throw from Jones. He was being defended by Tyree Gillespie from Missouri. Clemson wideout Amari Rodgers also had a solid day.

Defensive coordinator Phil Snow spent some one-on-one time talking with safety Mark Webb from Georgia. A good reminder that the coaching staff is getting a unique opportunity to truly get to know some of these players this week.

First impressions: Rhule shared Tuesday that at the combine last year, it took him just an elevator ride to determine one draft prospect would not be a fit with the Panthers. First impressions matter.

Alabama center Landon Dickerson is at the Senior Bowl, but not participating due to a torn ACL. Despite that, he was on the field for the entire practice with Carolina’s staff, and was one of the loudest people on the field, player or coach, as he cheered his teammates on. That’s the sort of quality that doesn’t show up on a stat sheet.