A day that started with Jeremy Chinn bounding onto the practice field dubbing today "real football day," ended with a player in an ambulance, and another off the roster. The headline out of today's practice was Keith Kirkwood leaving on a stretcher after a big hit from J.T. Ibe. Ibe was released immediately after practice following the incident. Head coach Matt Rhule was quick to move on from the situation in his post-practice media availability, but he did have a few things to say about the Panthers' first day in full pads.
Matt Rhule on his impressions of the first day in pads:
"It was clean up until that point (the Kirkwood/Ibe incident)...defense is adding the pressures in...the blitzes, so it's not just a moving target now. You saw the quarterbacks having to scramble a little bit...You can see the volume of the install piling up on some of the offensive players. I'm sure if you guys are watching it you're saying why is the quarterback throwing it there? Guys are supposed to be here but they're not here. These are things we have to improve upon...We got some good reps on tape. I'm excited to get up there and watch this."
Mistakes are to be expected early on in training camp, but it sounds like Rhule is pleased with how things are going. It seems that the defense is a little bit ahead of the offense thus far, but that is to be expected. Pay attention to how the offense improves throughout camp because it could define the 2021 season.
On Sam Darnold's practice the last two days:
"I thought he came out and had a good practice. He was the least of the issues yesterday. I thought he was pretty good yesterday when we watched the tape...We had a lot of mistakes and penalties yesterday and I thought we were a lot cleaner today."
Panthers' fans are desperate to see signs of life out of Darnold and these quotes from Rhule are overwhelmingly positive. Clips have been passed around on Twitter over the last few days of Darnold struggling to accurately hit receivers downfield, but again, it sounds like Rhule likes what he sees. Questions about Darnold are going to be asked all season, and it's good to see the head coach is backing his quarterback.
On Greg Little:
"I think he's progressing. I think he's way further ahead than he was in the spring. He's got stiff competition ahead of him but I think Greg is showing progress. I'll really have a better feel over the next three days. I think the next three days are the days I'll have a feel for the offensive line and the fullbacks...I think Cam Erving has done a tremendous job so far."
The Panthers used a premium pick on Little in the 2019 draft and he has not done much to live up to the capital spent on him. Little has battled injuries and inconsistency during his two seasons in the league, and a breakout season by the former second-round pick would be huge for the Panthers' chances to succeed in 2021. The fact that Rhule brought up Erving at the end of a question about Greg Little isn't the greatest show of faith in what Little is bringing to the table, but some competition for the young left tackle may light a fire in him.
On Shaq Thompson's injury:
"I think it's precautionary...It's one of those things that could linger. We tried to hold him yesterday thinking he could go today but he couldn't go today."
This is good news on one of the leaders of the Panthers' defense. The Panthers' defensive depth would be tested if Thompson misses a significant amount of time, but it doesn't seem like that will be the case.
On Cam Erving:
"I think he's done a nice job. He's really athletic so on the wide zone's he's run well. On his set, he's using his hands the way that we want. Today is in pads so we'll see how that looked on the tape. He's a really smart, intelligent guy. His main thing has just been staying healthy. He's made a commitment to stretching and keeping his weight up...I think his athleticism is really showing."
The revolving door at left tackle might finally come to a stop with Cam Erving. Rhule seems hopeful that Erving is the guy to fill the hole that has plagued the Panthers' offense since Jordan Gross retired in 2013. Erving has been incredibly inconsistent in his six NFL seasons, but a solid season out of the veteran could be incredibly beneficial for Carolina.