The Charlotte Observer

Panthers add QB to practice squad, key defender returns

- BY JONATHAN M. ALEXANDER jalexander@charlotteo­bserver.com Jonathan M. Alexander: 919-829-4822, @jonmalexan­der

During the first few minutes of the Panthers’ practice Thursday, a group of four Charlotte firefighte­rs sat on top of their ladder truck just high enough to peer over the seven-foot tall fence surroundin­g the practice field.

The sun was out, and the weather was mild, a break from the scorching heat in August.

Normally, the Panthers would be preparing for their fourth preseason game. But this weekend, NFL teams have a weekend off before the regular season-opener. Thursday was the last practice for the week before the Panthers take off for the next three days.

They return Monday before their season-opener against the Jets on Sept. 12 at Bank of America Stadium. And just like the firefighte­rs, everyone is curious about how they look and how they’ll play this season.

“They’ve worked really, really hard. It’s been a physical camp,” coach Matt Rhule said Thursday. “Joint practices and all that stuff. This is a well earned break.”

Here are four observatio­ns from Thursday’s practice:

HOW THEY’VE GROWN

When asked where the Panthers have grown the most through camp, Rhule said the team has learned how to play together and what it takes to win.

“I think they’ve gotten a lot closer as a team,” Rhule said. “Going away to Wofford, I think, the relaxation of the rules because we’re vaccinated (97%). I think the guys have a chance to sit together and visit with each other, talk to each other and get to know each other. That matters when you go through the highs and lows of the season. You better have some guys with some connection­s.”

That wasn’t always the case in 2020. The Panthers parted ways with a lot of their veterans and brought in new players. The NFL implemente­d strict rules in beginning of the COVID pandemic in 2020. There was no preseason, no offseason workouts. So the players didn’t really know each other.

BURRIS BACK AT PRACTICE

Starting safety Juston Burris, who had missed the last two days with an ongoing hip injury, returned to practice and was limited.

Rhule said he anticipate­s Burris being ready next week as well.

“We just wanted to get him through this week,”

Rhule said. “So he got some limited work. All just sort of precaution­ary...He’ll ready to go Monday.”

Burris started in 12 games in 2020. He had 53 tackles, an intercepti­on, four pass deflection­s and three tackles for loss. He’ll start opposite of Jeremy Chinn this season.

MICHAEL JORDAN NOT AT PRACTICE

No, not the Hornets owner. The Panthers claimed offensive guard Michael Jordan off waivers on Wednesday to add depth to their offensive line.

Rhule said Jordan, who is on the active roster, as well as some practice squad players the Panthers are bringing in are still going through physicals.

As of Thursday afternoon, 13 of the 16 practice squad players had signed. The Panthers recently added wide receiver Aaron Parker, who was cut by the Dallas Cowboys.

NEW VETERAN RUNNING BACK

After the cuts to get to the Panthers’ initial 53man roster, the only running backs on the active roster were Christian McCaffrey, rookie Chuba Hubbard and Trenton Cannon, who is primarily a special teams player.

That area was addressed Thursday afternoon when the team claimed veteran running back Royce Freeman off waivers from the Denver Broncos. In a correspond­ing move, Cannon was waived.

Freeman, 25, is entering his third NFL season after being drafted by the Broncos in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft out of Oregon.

In three seasons in Denver, the 6-foot, 238-pound back rushed for 1,187 yards and had nine total touchdowns. He does not have return experience in the NFL. Cannon was the team’s primary kick returner.

PANTHERS SIGN QUARTERBAC­K TO PRACTICE SQUAD

The Panthers have cut cornerback Rashaan Melvin, 31, from their practice squad to make room for a quarterbac­k. On Thursday, the Panthers announced that they had signed former Jets’ quarterbac­k James Morgan.

The Jets’ drafted Morgan in the fourth round of the 2020 draft out of Florida Internatio­nal.

Though he’ll be on the practice squad, Morgan gives the Panthers a third quarterbac­k on the team. The Panthers opted to keep only two quarterbac­ks on their 53-man roster after parting ways with 2019 third round pick Will Grier, who was recently claimed by the Dallas Cowboys.

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