Panthers rookie got healthy and is turning heads at training camp

·5 min read

On the second day of training camp in Spartanburg, the Carolina Panthers turned up the intensity just a little.

Along with one-on-ones and seven-on-seven drills, they ran some 11-on-11 work for the first time in camp.

“I thought it was competitive, I thought it was good,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said after practice. “The offense turned the ball over today. Two or three bad snaps. That’s something that can’t happen. But in terms of the team period, I thought we looked good.”

It’s Year 2 with Rhule as the head coach, and this season is different. The Panthers added some veterans in the offseason, they have a new quarterback, most of their team is fully vaccinated, and they’ve been able to participate fully in OTAs and minicamp.

The latter was missing in 2020, as players had to conduct most of their offseason work virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s night and day,” Rhule said. “Those guys are so much further ahead than they would have been. At the same time, we’re a different roster than we were last year.”

As for quarterback Sam Darnold, Rhule said he looks comfortable. The Panthers traded for Darnold this offseason to become their new starter. He had a tough year last season after the Jets, his previous team, finished 2-14 and he threw nine touchdowns to 11 interceptions.

“I think for Sam, this is his third offensive system in the National Football League in four years. That’s not easy,” Rhule said. “But he’s working at it.

“I think you can see him now look a little more confident than he did last spring because this is his second time through the installation.”

Here is what else you need to know from Thursday’s practice:

Robby Anderson absent on Day 2

Anderson, who led the Panthers with 95 catches last season, was not at practice Thursday. A spokesperson confirmed that it was related to an illness.

Rhule said the trainers held him out.

Anderson is on the last year of his two-year, $20 million contract.

Highlights from Panthers practice

Rookie receiver Terrace Marshall said he’s currently 100% healthy and he looked the part Thursday. He made a couple of nice catches in one-on-one and seven-on-seven drills, including a catch against veteran cornerback A.J. Bouye. Marshall got a step on Bouye and jumped high in the air for the catch.

At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Marshall is noticeably bigger than the opposing cornerbacks and has speed, too.

“He’s got long arms, he’s got big hands, you can back-shoulder him, you can throw it over the top,” Rhule said. “Like any rookie, he’s going to have some good days and some bad days, but today looked like a good day.”

Marshall was coming off a foot injury during his final season at LSU, and during OTAs, the Panthers’ staff worked him along slowly. He wore a red jersey and worked mostly on the sidelines then. In two days of training camp, he has been full-go without many limitations.

Marshall could play some outside wide receiver and slot this season, similar to his role at LSU where he was their top receiver in 2020.

“I’m comfortable anywhere on the field,” Marshall said Thursday. “I’ve just got to do what coach asks me to do.

“Wherever he puts me at, I’m just going to try my best to produce.”

Tight end Ian Thomas made a couple of nice catches that drew praise from his coaches. Neither were long receptions, but he caught passes in traffic.

Safety Sam Franklin and rookie cornerback Keith Taylor almost had — and probably should have had — an interception. On different plays, both players dropped passes that bounced off their hands. They were, however, in good position to make a play.

Franklin is a player who could see more playing time this season. Rhule said he has the potential to be a starter.

Darnold had a pretty good day, except for the interception he threw. It came on a slant route to wide receiver DJ Moore. The pass was overthrown and bounced off Moore’s hands and into the arms of safety Jeremy Chinn.

Two plays prior to that, Darnold threw a nice deep pass to second-year receiver Omar Bayless in one-on-one drills. Rookie cornerback Jaycee Horn was in coverage.

Darnold also made some solid mid-range and short throws to various receivers and running backs, including Christian McCaffrey.

Wide receiver David Moore had a mixed day. He had one pass pop off his hands with second-year cornerback Troy Pride in coverage.

There were a couple of bad snaps by the offense that led to fumble recoveries.

Cornerback Donte Jackson high-fived fans after preventing Moore from catching a pass from Darnold. The ball was slightly out of Moore’s reach.

Notables

Cameron Erving took first-team reps at left tackle, and Pat Elflein got first-team reps at left guard. Both players were signed this offseason. Their first-team status could change as training camp progresses.

Right tackle Taylor Moton took a few snaps at left tackle Thursday.

Rookie Brady Christensen, who was drafted out of BYU in the third round this offseason, practiced at right tackle. Christensen played left tackle in college.

Second-year player Jeremy Chinn has continued to practice exclusively at safety. After playing mostly linebacker in 2020, the staff made the move this offseason in hopes of preserving his long-term health.

“I think between Jason Simmons and (Phil) Snow, they’ll be creative enough to utilize his skill set,” Rhule said Tuesday. “But we’re going to play him there for a while and see if it’s natural to him.

“But I think right now we feel good about the plan of ‘Hey, try him back there. Let him affect the pass defense a little bit more,’ and then move him up by call.’”

Staff writer Alaina Getzenberg contributed to this report.

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