Despite not being able to hold team activities, several of the Carolina Panthers players already have familiarity with teammates.
Last week the NFL sent out a memo to all 32 teams allowing for a re-opening of team facilities on May 19. That day has since come, and while some teams took advantage of this gradual return to football, the Carolina Panthers chose to hold off. Fortunately for them though, several team members–even the new ones–have experience playing with one another, despite the roster having so many new faces in 2020. While the familiarity runs throughout the whole team, it’s especially present on the offensive side of the football. From the coaching staff to the offensive line to the quarterbacks and receivers, many of the newcomers already have connections.
The Panthers’ revamped offensive line includes a trio of players who have played together previously.
Aside from perhaps the secondary, no position group on Carolina’s 2020 roster has experienced as much change this offseason as the offensive line. The Panthers are projected to have three new starters up front in the upcoming season, with none having more than two years of starting experience with the franchise. One of Matt Rhule’s first major moves as head coach was to trade All-Pro guard Trai Turner to the Chargers in exchange for Russell Okung. The Panthers have struggled to find a reliable left tackle since Jordan Gross retired, so the hope is that Okung can consistently protect the quarterback’s blindside.
Carolina had to replace both starting guards from last season, so they went out and signed John Miller and Michael Schofield in free agency. While nothing is set in stone, Miller is expected to play right guard with Schofield on the left side. In between the two will be Matt Paradis at center, who is entering his second season with the Panthers. At right tackle the Panthers will return Taylor Moton. Entering his fourth year in the league, Moton has developed into quite a solid option and is due for a new contract at the end of the 2020 campaign.
Despite all the shake-up on the line, Carolina has several players who have already played together. Okung, Schofield, and Paradis were all starters on Denver’s offensive line in 2016, which was a top-10 run-blocking unit according to Pro Football Focus. After their tenure with the Broncos, Okung and Schofield each spent the past three seasons with the Chargers, so there is obviously plenty of familiarity there. It’s likely that the pair will team up on the left side with the Panthers, so that chemistry should serve them well. It’s also worth mentioning that Pat Meyer, Carolina’s new offensive line coach, served in the same role during Okung and Schofield’s entire stay in LA.
New quarterback Teddy Bridgewater also has experience with certain members of the new coaching staff and roster.
With the exception of Teddy Bridgewater and their rookie head coach, perhaps the two highest-profile additions to the Panthers organization this offseason were offensive coordinator Joe Brady and wide receiver Robby Anderson. If you follow the Panthers even somewhat closely, you’ve probably heard a hundred times that Bridgewater and Brady spent time together in New Orleans. Brady was an offensive assistant and Bridgewater was obviously the backup to Drew Brees.
With that being said, the player-coach duo should already know the areas in which the other succeeds in, so the overall scheme and playcalling should make for a smooth transition for both Bridgewater and Brady. Even last year at LSU, Brady’s offense relied on the quarterback making quick, intelligent decisions and delivering an accurate football. Fortunately for Bridgewater and the Panthers, that’s exactly the things the former Saint and Viking thrives at doing. In fact, the supposed reason that Carolina elected to move on from Cam Newton was due to how good a fit Bridgewater is in the new scheme.
Perhaps what you haven’t heard so much about though is the connection between Bridgewater and Anderson. The two spent a preseason together back in 2018 with the New York Jets. The Jets had given Bridgewater a short-term deal nearly two years after he suffered a catastrophic left knee injury, and while he wasn’t with the team long, his time with New York was enough to show the talent he possessed.
Bridgewater targeted Anderson only one time in the 2018 preseason (it was an eight-yard pickup), but the experience of playing together for however brief a time could prove invaluable considering how restricted this current offseason is. On top of that, it’s also interesting to note that earlier this week Anderson and Bridgewater posted pictures on social media of themselves working out and running routes together. Fellow Panthers newcomer Seth Roberts was also pictured in the posts.
Overall, the lack of a normal offseason schedule makes the already present chemistry especially valuable.
We have all been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is some form or fashion, and the sports world has been no different. The NBA, NHL, and MLB all remain on hold, the NCAA is yet to decide if it will hold fall sports, and even though the NFL has granted teams permission to re-open facilities with significant restrictions, the league has had far from a normal offseason. The pandemic forced the draft to go virtual, training camp dates remain up-in-the-air, and the preseason may or may not go on as scheduled. With all that being said, the fact that the Panthers already have so much familiarity on offense is crucial to the unit’s success in 2020.
There’s no doubt that the virus will have an effect on the way the upcoming season plays out, and depending on when, how, or even if the offseason returns, previously built chemistry could go a long way for this young Panthers team. Sure they probably still aren’t a legitimate postseason threat, but it’s also reasonable to argue that the 2020 offense in not only a more cohesive, but also more competitive roster than most people give them credit for.