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Carolina Panthers: Tabor’s specialists explain why he was right choice to replace Reich

Chris Tabor, by the nature of his longtime trade as a special teams coordinator, is a problem-solver. And with a 1-10 start leading to Frank Reich’s firing this week, the Panthers, coincidentally, have quite a few problems to solve with six games remaining in the regular season.

Tabor, the new interim head coach, is uniquely qualified for the chaos at hand because of the moving and shaking that happens in his meeting rooms on a weekly basis — even during the good times.

And despite his special teams background, Tabor is focused on the big picture when comes to game-planning for the Week 13 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“We work collectively,” Tabor said Wednesday. “To be honest, I’ve always been involved in the (game-day roster), and I understand the 53 (man roster), things that have to be done by (GM Scott Fitterer) and his staff, and those things, but I have to look at the total picture. And I think people say, “Boy, he’s a special teams coach, he’s going to try to hoard a bunch of special teams players.’ That’s not going to be the case.

“We want to do whatever we can, when we go down to Tampa, to set ourselves up to be successful — offense, defense and in the kicking game.”

Tabor, 52, has coached in the NFL for 16 seasons. He has worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of players with changes happening on special teams on routinely.

If an offensive or defensive lineman is injured, he needs to switch up his field goal unit. If one of his gunners on punt coverage goes down, he needs to train a replacement in a matter of days.

And when the team he inherited Monday had nine non-participants — including his punter — in his first practice as interim head coach, Tabor had to improvise throughout the roster.

That’s not uncharted territory at all for the guy players and coaches affectionately call “Tabes.”

“For example, maybe a (defensive back) has to play wide receiver,” Tabor said. “I think that’s common in the NFL. We talk it through, everybody knows, so we practice fast and make sure everything looks sharp.”

Special teams contributors back Tabor’s promotion to interim coach

JJ Jansen, the Panthers’ all-time leader in games played, is one of Tabor’s trusted specialists. The longtime long-snapper believes special teams coordinators are equipped to handle the grind of being a head coach because they already work with the majority of the players on the roster.

“Special teams coordinators are uniquely suited to be head coaches because all special teams coaches do is resource management,” Jansen said. “Who’s on the roster? Who’s up? Who’s down? (He) communicates with the entire team. Our team meetings and our special teams meeting have basically the same people in them — which is unique.”

Kicker Eddy Piñeiro, who has worked with Tabor longer than anyone in the Carolina locker room, thinks the coordinator-turned-head coach is able to captivate a locker room because his energy draws players into his messaging.

“He’s the same guy, he hasn’t changed,” Piñeiro said. “He’s the same guy every single day. He comes into the building, keeps the energy going, keeps it fun, keeps it exciting, and yeah, I love it.”

Along with his energy, a handful of players polled by The Observer on Wednesday repeatedly brought up Tabor’s consistency as a coach. From rookies to veterans, the word “fun” was uttered when describing the new head leader on the staff.

But most of all, familiarity was the key to an easy transition this week.

“He already talks to the majority of the team, so it was like a smooth transition,” safety Sam Franklin said. “It’s not like nobody knows him or we haven’t talked to him. So, it was a lot easier.”

Wednesday injury statuses

Did not participate: S Vonn Bell (shoulder), OLB Marquis Haynes (back), TE Hayden Hurst (concussion), OT Taylor Moton (rest/knee), WR Laviska Shenault (ankle), WR Adam Thielen (rest), TE Tommy Tremble (hip), G Chandler Zavala* (knee), P Johnny Hekker (personal)

Limited: S Jeremy Chinn (IR - quad), OLB Yetur Gross Matos (IR - hamstring), CB Jaycee Horn (IR - hamstring), OLB DJ Johnson (elbow), G Cade Mays (ankle)

Full: CB CJ Henderson (concussion)

* Zavala was placed on injured reserve following practice.

Quick hits

Panthers QB Bryce Young said Wednesday that he found out about Reich’s firing during the team meeting on Monday. He said owner David Tepper told the team. However, wideout DJ Chark said someone sent him the news prior to that meeting.

The Panthers signed veteran guard Gabe Jackson to the practice squad on Wednesday. Jackson, a 2014 third-round pick, has played 131 games (130 starts) over nine seasons with the Raiders and Seahawks. He started 31 games over the past two seasons in Seattle. With Zavala on injured reserve and May dealing with an ankle injury, Jackson can provide experienced depth. The team also has Brett Toth and Nash Jensen at guard.

Guard Austin Corbett (knee) underwent surgery on his torn MCL on Wednesday, the lineman announced on Twitter. Corbett suffered the injury in the Week 11 home loss to the Dallas Cowboys.