Matt Rhule Prepared To Navigate Through Uncertain First Season

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By , Sports Radio WFNZ

The Carolina Panthers have begun to report for training camp at Bank of America Stadium but things look a lot different not just with the roster but with how camp and preparing for the season will take place due to COVID-19.

New head coach Matt Rhule still has yet to meet all his players and is now finally able to be in the building after only communicating with the team via Zoom calls and the phone this offseason.

But the Panthers are not the only team going through this surreal year where plenty of precautions and changes will be needed.

"It's less than ideal but there's nothing worse than a football coach that complains," Rhule said. "I just have to do the best I can with it and take it as a challenge. It's the challenge that's here and I'm going to enthusiastically accept it."

NFL teams will have more flexibility with their rosters due to potential opt-outs or players being diagnosed with COVID.

Only one player on the team, undrafted rookie linebacker Jordan Mack, has opted out so far but Rhule is aware that it'll be a concern as the season goes on. 

"I told our guys that each of us has a different set of circumstances," Rhule said. "You have to make a decision of letting people down or your families and I always want our players to air on the side of families and their health." 

Carolina is the only team in the league with a whole new coaching staff and with Rhule having a limited amount of time to implement his system and learn the players' strengths and weaknesses, practice will be that much more important. 

"I told our guys is that this is truly a time for our players, young players, older players, if they have a meeting in person or not in person, they have to really be great at it. If they go out to the practice field and get a couple of reps, they've got to be great at them," Rhule said. "They have to really show what they can do in a controlled environment. It's not ideal but it is what it is and we're going to try and make really good decisions." 

The Panthers will also be a relatively young team with a lot of turnover this offseason.

With training camp usually being an opportunity for undrafted players and practice squad guys getting the chance to prove their value, things will have to be sped up.

"I just think it's one of those things where we're trying to train everyone and learn the system but also cross-train people," Rhule said. "If someone's sick or hurt, who else can do that job and who else can step in?"

Some of the new precautions that Rhule says the team has implemented is an eight-foot social distance rule and wearing masks.

"I tell our guys that eight is the new six," Rhule said. "Like they say six feet of social distancing, we're trying to do everything at eight feet as best we can."

Rhule added that more weight rooms, recovery rooms and locker areas have been built around the stadium to follow social distancing guides line coaches have worn face shields instead of masks so players can still see their faces.

"I hope when all our players show up they'll see that in a hard situation we've done our best to try and make this a brand new place and space for them," he said.

On the Panthers quarterbacks:

"Teddy (Bridgewater) knows it (the offense) so well. Him and Joe (Brady) have such a good football relationship...If you get to know Teddy his demeanor is he's all football."

"I couldn't be more impressed, virtually with Will Grier and P.J. Walker. They've done a really good job at trying to learn in the offseason and I think we'll have a great QB room this camp."

Updates on the health of players:

"Seeing KK (Kawann Short) he looks like he's in fantastic shape. He's 315 pounds, he's done a great job of really putting himself in position to have a fantastic year. Shaq (Thompson) looks healthy and Graham (Gano), even though I haven't been able to see him kick, looks healthy."

"With Michael Palardy, I'm so disappointed for him. Just an amazing team guy but I believe his best football is still ahead of him."

Utilizing receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel:

"The thing that's always intrigued about Curtis is he has tremendous deep-threat ability but he is also so versatile. I see him as a guy that can be a running back, be in the slot or be an outside receiver. We think he's a guy that can be fun and we can utilize."

"D.J. is a guy that has to take another step this year and be that dominant, physical go-to guy that you can go to on third-and-5 and just dominate."