A wildly unconventional Carolina Panthers offseason will somewhat return to normalcy when rookies report to training camp on July 21.
For the first time since December, the Carolina Panthers are finally nearing an organized return. The team will have about 20 rookies report to training camp on Tuesday, marking the first wave of players to check in for camp. The second wave will consist of injured players and quarterbacks on July 23, with all other players reporting on July 28. In compliance with NFL guidelines, this year’s training camp will be held at the team’s facilities in Charlotte. As a result, 2020 will be the first time in Panthers history that camp won’t be held at Wofford College in Spartanburg.
Training camp will be especially important this year considering the cancellation of OTAs and at least two preseason games.
As if training camp hasn’t always been important for players on the cut line, that will especially be the case this summer. In-person OTAs were wiped out across the league this spring, and the NFL has already announced that the preseason will consist of two games at the most. That means that players have a much more limited opportunity to prove themselves and secure a roster spot than in years past. For late-round and undrafted rookies such as Bravvion Roy, Stantley Thomas-Oliver, and Rodney Smith, this makes their roster hopes much less certain.
Even the higher-drafted players like Derrick Brown and Jeremy Chinn will be affected in the fact that they will get much less of a taste of NFL experience than a rookie in another year would. Seeing as though Brown and Chinn, along with Troy Pride Jr., will likely each see lots of playing time in 2020, this lack of a true offseason could prove to be a significant obstacle for the young guys’ development this season.
The impact of a shortened offseason stretches to Matt Rhule and his new staff as well. When the Panthers hired Rhule as the team’s head coach back in January, a rebuild of some sort was certainly expected. Gone is Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, and Greg Olsen, and nearly half of the starting defense from 2019 is gone. That means a new quarterback, new offensive weapons, and a slew of newcomers on the defensive side of the ball. As if a rebuild of that magnitude wasn’t difficult enough on its own, now Rhule has to navigate his new roster with hardly any offseason activity and a shortened preseason schedule. With that being said, camp is just as important for the new coaching staff as it is for the players trying to make the team.
The delayed start to training camp is one of several NFL restrictions regarding the return from the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the start of training camp is no doubt a step in the right direction, the NFL has already announced several restrictions to help promote the health and safety of players, coaches, and fans. One of the first announcements the NFL made was the aforementioned reduction of the preseason schedule. The league usually holds four preseason games for each team; however, that number has currently been cut back to just one or two games. Depending on NFL/NFLPA negotiations, it’s possible that the preseason could be scrapped altogether.
Another new restriction is the temporary prohibition of “jersey swaps.” That means that unlike in years past, players won’t be allowed to trade jerseys with members of the opposing team. A more recent development in the return to play is experimentation with face shields inside the helmet. Oakley recently unveiled an initial prototype of the face shield and sent them out to all 32 teams. Even still, there remains a plethora of unanswered questions that must be resolved before the season can actually begin.
Perhaps the most pressing question for fans is whether or not they will be permitted to attend games. While the NFL has largely been mum on the issue, they are allowing the individual teams to make that decision. As of right now, the Panthers are planning to have about 20,000 people in the stands at each home game; however, single-game tickets will not be for sale. That plan is obviously subject to change between now and the season opener in September, but it at least provides hope that fans will be able to attend games.
Other questions the league will need to address in the coming weeks are how they will deal with players opting out, player stipends/contracts, and how they will handle the inevitable positive COVID tests. Regardless of how these questions are answered, there is real optimism that there will be a complete 2020 NFL season, and there remains hope that fans will be in the stands, even if it’s at partial capacity. Just like every other league and organization though, it’s important that the Panthers and the NFL take things one step at a time in order to ensure the safety of everyone involved.