The Carolina Panthers secondary struggled greatly in 2019, and after losing their top corner in James Bradberry, there was a gaping hole for who would start at corner opposite of Donte Jackson.
In late May, after a deal with the Las Vegas Raiders fell through, the Panthers signed cornerback Eli Apple to a one-year deal, hoping that his four-years of experience in the NFL will bring a desperate need of veteran leadership and experience to a young secondary.
"I just turned 25 yesterday and I do feel like an elder out there," Apple said on Monday. "It's great, though. There is a lot of great energy and I'm just enjoying it right now."
Even though he was signed late in the offseason, due to COVID-19 restrictions and a Panthers defense that went young this offseason in addition to entirely new coaching staff, Apple comes to Carolina on the same page as everyone.
"It's a new everything for a lot of people," Apple said. "It's about meshing and gelling and just trying to get an understanding of the defense and trying to learn different steps, different coverages and all that stuff. I think they've (the coaching staff) has done a great job just coaching us and teaching us those new techniques we're still getting used to."
Apple's first few years in the league have been rocky.
Drafted 10th overall by the New York Giants in 2016, Apple struggled on a bad Giants team on-and-off the field and was traded to the New Orleans Saints in 2018.
On a winning team in New Orleans, Apple proved that he can still be a caliber starting cornerback.
"I went to a team that had one win to a team that had a bunch so there was definitely a difference with that," Apple said. "The stakes were super high, of course, like they always are but it was exciting and it's something I'm definitely working towards to bring here."
That learning experience will only help Apple improve even more as a player.
"I've seen so much and I've been through a lot more than I guess, the normal guy in the league," Apple said. "I've been traded, I've been on teams that are really good and really bad so I've seen it all. I've seen every side of the league and I feel like there is a lot of experience with that and now it's just about going about my business and playing at a high level."
In Carolina, the opportunity to join a team with a strong defensive history was intriguing for Apple.
"It's definitely a fresh start, Apple said. "Just to be a part of this culture...(I) definitely have a lot of respect for the Panthers and how they go about business."
Going through his own struggles when entering the league, Apple also sees the potential in Jackson, who has had his own ups-and-downs during his first two years in the NFL.
"He's very smart, quick and fast," Apple said. "He's very smart on the field and I think that helps him play faster. I feel like we're just both learning stuff and trying to teach each other different techniques cause he plays a lot differently than I do. So, I'm just trying to pick his brain and tell him what I see, too."
Apple says this year is a crucial year for himself as well and the biggest challenge is just learning quickly due to the limited amount of time.
"I'm a tall, rangy, fast corner that's very physical, especially in press coverage," Apple said. "I feel like with those skills I can fit in and be a great piece for this defense."