Since the firing of special teams coordinator Brian Murphy on Monday, it’s been all hands on deck as Richard Rodgers gets used to his role.
Coach Ron Rivera said no fewer than six other coaches, including himself, helped out with the special teams units during Wednesday’s practice.
Rivera named defensive assistant Bobby Babich, assistant receivers coach Ricky Proehl, defensive quality control coach Sam Mills III, running backs coach John Settle and assistant offensive line coach Ray Brown as coaches who chipped in during Wednesday’s practice on field goal, punt and kickoff protections.
“The tone’s a little different,” Rivera said of changes in special teams practice from last week. “I think that reflects on who the coordinator is now, and I thought the guys handled it very well. Yesterday, I saw a little bit more involvement with the players coming up and visiting coach
“We’ll see how that is next week, as well. If they sustain it, then obviously there is something different. But for right now the guys are just adjusting to the personality.”
A focus of the new staff has been the punt return team. Captain Munnerlyn ranks last in the league in returns among those eligible with 4.5 yards per return.
“We need to do something,” Munnerlyn said. “Catching the ball and holding on to the ball is the key. But it’s about being productive.
“Back there, I haven’t done nothing. Not to blame the blocking or nothing like that, but we’ve got to do a better job period. That’s with me finding the open lanes and hitting it. That’s with those guys keeping the gunners off me.
“If you keep the gunners off the returner, I feel like the returner can make something happen. I don’t care who’s back there, if you don’t block for him he won’t go nowhere.”
Rookie returner Joe Adams hasn’t played since Week 3, when he fumbled a kickoff and muffed a punt against the Giants, but Rivera said he’s been monitoring the rookie’s progress as well as his confidence.
“Joe had a very good day (Wednesday), and I’ve talked with Joe and Joe knows exactly where I am with him,” Rivera said. “I’ve told him we’re looking for consistent days, and he had a good day today.”
INJURY UPDATE: The Panthers moved defensive end Thomas Keiser to injured reserve to make room for guard Jeremy Bridges.
Keiser injured his elbow against Dallas and did not return to practice until last week. Rivera said Keiser wasn’t himself at practice, and he learned recently that he had torn ligaments in his elbow.
“I had the same injury when I played but I didn’t have to push a guy every down like he does, so that was tough on him,” Rivera said. “It was one of those things that probably wasn’t going to heal for a couple more weeks and it’s probably the best move for him. And it gave us an extra space.”
Antwan Applewhite (hamstring) did not practice, although he did work on the exercise bike and run. Also not participating Wednesday as a veteran day off were wide receiver Steve Smith, offensive linemen Jordan Gross and Geoff Hangartner, linebacker Thomas Davis and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards.
Wide receiver Armanti Edwards (groin) and guard Amini Silatolu (shoulder) were limited.
TIME FOR THE TROOPS: Defensive end Charles Johnson and tight end Gary Barnidge were among a group of Panthers who visited Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday to spend time with the troops.
It was Johnson’s first visit, and he rappelled down a wall and took part in other exercises soldiers do in training.
Barnidge visited with members of the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg three years ago and has played video games with troops overseas. The visit to Fort Jackson allowed Barnidge and the other Panthers to see new soldiers go through basic training.
“We had lunch with some drill sergeants and they had some great stories,” Barnidge said.
How close were the real drill sergeants to the stereotypical image of the loud, aggressive leaders?
“Every once in a while (they raised their voices), but they were not yelling at us,” Barnidge said. “They used some of the lingo and we didn’t always understand what it meant, but it was a lot of fun.”
YOUNG AND OLD: Though Tampa Bay ranks last in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game, Panthers receiver Steve Smith is impressed with the Bucs’ safety combination of veteran Ronde Barber and rookie Mark Barron.
“When you talk about Ronde, I think Hall of Fame. Twenty sacks. Twenty interceptions. He’s savvy. He knows what he’s doing. He can trick you,” Smith said.
The Panthers considered drafting Barron last spring, but he was snapped up by the Bucs with the seventh pick. “As far as (Barron), he has a great mentor,” Smith said. “He has a great guy teaching him how to play the game, understanding what he needs to look for and look at the keys.
“Whenever you have a young guy like that being taught by a savvy veteran like that, he’s going to turn out to be a fantastic player. He wasn’t drafted at the end of the draft. He was drafted very high for a reason. He makes plays as well.”