CHARLOTTE — Panthers training camp continues to intensify and by next week the team will have their first practice with full pads and contact.
Channel 9 sports anchor Matt Harris found out Monday how the team is progressing through this unique training camp.
Cornerback Eli Apple said he’s ready to put on the pads, and he feels like the rest of the team is too. The Panthers still haven’t had a training camp practice with any contact, but the last thing anyone needs on top of everything else is an injury.
The Panthers are set to enter Phase 2 of training camp this week -- the ramp-up phase. Players will wear helmets for the first time during what will look like more traditional practices, but still won’t be wearing full pads.
Apple, acquired this offseason from the New Orleans Saints, just turned 25 and will carry more NFL experience than many on this new-look Panthers defense.
He said because he’s seen so much -- playing on both good and bad teams -- that he brings experience and leadership about going about his business at a high level. He said new defensive coordinator Phil Snow expects a fast, aggressive defense with a lot of communication, so he’s ready to put on the pads now.
“I feel like it’s perfect for me because I’m aggressive as well,” Apple told Channel 9. So, I feel like we’re going to be after people and that’s what I want. That’s what we want as a defense, be aggressive and physical out there.”
Apple said he’s enjoyed working with fellow corner Donte Jackson so far, calling him smart and fast.
The NFL season is still in limbo, but the Panthers are moving forward with the next phase of training camp.
Last Monday, veterans began their acclimation period -- on-field conditioning and walkthroughs.
Channel 9 sports anchor Matt Harris sat down and spoke with Teddy Bridgewater, the man who will take over the starting quarterback position from Cam Newton.
The new face of the franchise said he’s feeling quite cozy so far in the Queen City.
“Excited to get back to work,” Bridgewater said. “Excited for what’s in store for us.”
Bridgewater said he used the virtual offseason to his advantage, getting to know his new teammates and preparing. He said team owner David Tepper, general manager Marty Hurney and head coach Matt Rhule have handed him the keys.
“They told me from the jump this is my team and the guys will go as I go,” the new quarterback told Channel 9. “Just being around the guys a couple of days, they’re feeding off my energy and I’m feeding off their energy. It definitely feels like my team.”
The Panthers will go through the acclimation period followed by a "ramp-up" period over the next two weeks. Beginning Aug. 17, the team can begin implementing contact with full pads. Those will look more like traditional practices.
With no preseason games this year, Hurney said there’s more emphasis on evaluating practice, team meetings and walkthroughs.
Panthers two-time Pro Bowler Kawann Short thought about opting out, but the 6-foot-3, 315-pound defensive tackle simply couldn’t bear the thought of missing another football season.
Short sat out the final 14 games of 2019 with a partially torn rotator cuff.
Although he said there were days during the seven-month recovery process that left him wondering if his shoulder was healing correctly, he now calls the surgery an “awesome success” and feels as strong as ever.
Now he can't wait to get back to practice.
“I’m still working on little things as far as just getting a range of motion,” Short said. “But other than that, I feel good.”
Short will anchor Carolina’s completely revamped defensive line, starting alongside rookie defensive tackle Derrick Brown, the No. 7 pick in this year’s NFL draft out of Auburn.
“KK looks like he’s in fantastic shape,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “He’s 315 pounds. I think he’s done a really good job of putting himself in position to have a special year.”
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Short has been a playmaker for the Panthers with 32 1/2 sacks and nine forced fumbles in his first six seasons with Carolina despite seeing plenty of double teams. His quickness allows the Panthers to shift him out to defensive end, where he can be more effective as a rusher on certain passing downs.
The Panthers can certainly use him after losing nine starters from the squad that finished last season.
Carolina's defense struggled last season, allowing 29.4 points per game and a league-high 32 touchdowns rushing under former head coach Ron Rivera and interim coach Perry Fewell. Short said that is something he won't allow this season.
“We have to be better than last year,” Short said of the defense. “We have to be disciplined and come in with the right mindset. Have to hold each other accountable. ... If the defensive line is not doing our job, tell us so we can get it corrected. You have to take criticism and take it and make it motivation.”
Short plans to take on more of a leadership role.
Of Carolina’s five teams captains last season, he’s the only returner. The Panthers have parted ways with quarterback Cam Newton, tight end Greg Olsen, linebacker Luke Kuechly and safety/special teamer Colin Jones.
He's also expected to serve as a mentor to Brown, who Rhule believes can be a dominant player for years to come.
Together, they have the potential to be a formidable duo inside and fix a porous run defense.
“Seeing what he has done since the day he got drafted until today, he has put himself in (great) position,” Short said of Brown. “He is willing to work and help out everybody. As far as double teams, who knows? They might double team him and leave me one on one. We have to be prepared to win every play.”
Short spoke with his family before making a decision on whether to play this season when some others have opted out because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But after weighing the options he felt it was safe enough to return.
Short felt even more reassured when he walked into the team's stadium for the first time last week.
There, he said, players had their temperatures checked in the parking lot. They wore monitors to alarm them if they got too close to a teammate.
The atmosphere is different, too. He said it takes more time to do everything, like using the hot tub, which now restricts the number of players allowed in at one time. Players also spend their breaks in the team's luxury suites, each assigned their own one, instead of hanging out in the players' lounge or locker room.
“The stuff we normally do, you have to realize now that it’s a whole different direction that we are going and they’re trying to keep everyone safe in this building,” Short said. “The precaution that they have around here is crazy, it’s overwhelming. But it’s the right thing for this organization to do to help keep us safe.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this article.)
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