5 questions surrounding Carolina Panthers’ minicamp practices

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The Carolina Panthers have more work to get done before breaking for the summer.

After three weeks of on-field work with coaches during voluntary organized team activities, the Panthers have at least two more practices that are closed to the public before breaking until players are set to arrive in Spartanburg, S.C. for training camp July 27. The biggest difference this week? These are the first mandatory practices, which players can get fined for missing.

During this time, teams can have two practices totaling 3 ½ hours on the field per day.

“Two of those days are football days,” coach Matt Rhule of the minicamp that can be up to three days. “Just try to culminate everything that we’ve done. I mean as much two-minute, red zone and third downs as we can get or as much (moving) the ball, reacting situations as we can get, I think that’s great.”

The defensive side of the ball is more set for the Panthers, so this list is more offense-heavy. A look at five things we’ll be watching for.

1. Robby Anderson’s return

The Panthers have been in the minority of teams across the league with extremely high attendance for the voluntary portion of the offseason activities. The only player who has missed all of the past three weeks of practice is wide receiver Robby Anderson. Entering the final year of a two-year contract with the Panthers, Anderson is coming off his first career 1,000-yard season. He also played with new quarterback Sam Darnold for two years with the New York Jets.

Anderson has been working out in his hometown in southern Florida. Rhule has been consistent in saying he has no reason to believe the wide receiver won’t be in attendance. He has been staying in touch with players like fellow wideout DJ Moore and Darnold. There will be plenty of eyes on whether he returns as expected.

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson (11) comes down with a long reception in the second half against the Chicago Bears at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, October 18, 2020. The Bears won, 23-16.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson (11) comes down with a long reception in the second half against the Chicago Bears at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, October 18, 2020. The Bears won, 23-16.

2. Injuries

There have been a number of players limited at practice due to offseason surgeries and other minor issues.

The number has only grown as practice has continued, however, there have not been any major incidents. Players who have been limited throughout include Brian Burns, Jeremy Chinn, Yetur Gross-Matos and Trent Scott. Second-round pick Terrace Marshall is being brought along slowly as he recovers from college injuries.

Rhule said that the belief is that all will be back and ready to go for training camp, but getting through minicamp as healthy as possible is a priority.

3. Continuing to get Sam Darnold comfortable with the offense

This season, the Panthers are relying on Darnold to improve upon what he did in his first three years with the Jets. It’s early still; training camp is still over a month away. But the extra reps that will come this week are even more valuable when there is a new quarterback in the building.

Darnold said that he is still getting comfortable with the offense and has more to learn. His passes have looked sharp in practice overall, but that’s without contact and real pressure in his face. The quarterback should be as far along as possible in the offense before breaking for a month away.

Sam Darnold struggled in 2020. Here’s why this year with the Panthers should be different

4. Offensive line mashup

During practices over the past month, the Panthers have been trying a variety of combinations along the offensive line. Different players subbing in and out at left tackle, guard, etc. Part of that is due to injuries and availability, but consistency on the offensive line was a major issue last year. The defensive side of the ball has largely clear starters, while the offense is a bit of a question mark at many spots.

This is still a team that has not shown enough was done to address the issues that plagued the offensive line last year. Who will step up at left tackle? Is it Cam Erving? Will rookie Brady Christensen definitively make more sense at guard than tackle?

Answers won’t all come this week, but the lack of certainty across the line needs to start getting clearer.

Carolina Panthers rookie tackle Brady Christensen works on technique during the teamÕs 2021 rookie minicamp practice on Friday, May 14, 2021.
Carolina Panthers rookie tackle Brady Christensen works on technique during the teamÕs 2021 rookie minicamp practice on Friday, May 14, 2021.

5. Starting tight end

Offensive coordinator Joe Brady discussed last week how the tight end position is key to the success of the offense he runs. Last year, the tight ends barely played a role as receivers and were not an integral part of getting the ball downfield.

The team has invested in the position by signing Dan Arnold and drafting Tommy Tremble out of Notre Dame, but neither is clear all-around receiving tight end that has shown the ability to consistently catch passes in the middle of the field. Ian Thomas is now in the final year of his rookie contract and has a lot to prove.

Darnold will need someone who he can depend on. There are a variety of position battles that will extend into training camp, but this is one of the most important to watch develop for the offense.

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