On a crisp Monday afternoon, the helmet of cornerback Lorenzo Doss sat alone in the grass.
Minutes earlier, a long airhorn blast had signaled the end of Carolina Panthers minicamp. Players and coaches filtered off. But the No. 31 helmet stayed, because its owner was busy.
On the middle field, Doss lined up inches away from wide receiver Austin Duke. With backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert throwing, Doss covered Duke as he ran slants and stop-and-goes. Then he found an assistant coach willing to serve as a ball carrier, and worked on forcing fumbles from behind.
This extra work is necessary, part of his style. More reps mean more consistency. And that’s how Doss, 24 and entering his fourth season in the NFL with his third team, plans to stand out to the Panthers.
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“It’s consistency,” he said. “That’s the way to be great in this game. That’s what I’m trying to reach."
He has done that so far. The Panthers opened three organized team activities to the media, and Doss had an interception in team drills each day — one at the start of each week.
On Monday during this week's minicamp, playing with the first team, he broke up a Cam Newton pass intended for Christian McCaffrey. Tuesday brought more of the same, as Doss intercepted Taylor Heinicke.
He has caught the attention of many, including coach Ron Rivera, who called the 5-foot-11 Doss “interesting,” but noted that his highlight plays should be put in context.
“He just seems to improve every day,” Rivera said. “But right now, it’s one of those things where there's no consequences. So you can play, kind of cut it loose.
"What will be interesting to see is if he can maintain that once the pads come on and the consequences increase — in terms of when you get burned, you get burned, and it's a big deal.”
But for a team that finished last season with 10 interceptions — seven fewer than in 2016, 14 fewer than in 2015 — any sign of such playmaking is welcome. The Panthers didn’t get an interception from a cornerback until Week 14, and Daryl Worley, last year’s starter alongside James Bradberry, is gone.
“What's it do when he's making plays? … It builds confidence,” Rivera said. “It does. And for us, as coaches, it gets our attention. We kind of look and say, ‘OK, who's that? Oh, it's Doss again.’”
Doss, who was born in New Orleans and played for Tulane, says he’s always emphasized a ballhawk mentality. In three years with the Green Wave, he picked off 15 passes, including seven as a sophomore. He also tied a school record with two interception returns for touchdowns, and set a school record with 271 interception return yards.
“That’s one thing I stress — getting that ball,” he said. “When the play presents itself, I’ve got to make it. … I’ve got to go out, get this turnover for the team, because every turnover is big in this league. You don’t get many.”
A Bronco for Super Bowl 50
Doss, a fifth-round pick of the Denver Broncos in 2015, found himself in a near-perfect situation as a rookie. The Broncos went 15-4 behind one of the best defenses in recent NFL history, and beat the Panthers 24-10 in Super Bowl 50.
Doss was inactive for that game, and ended up playing in 15 games for the Broncos in three seasons. The cornerback group around him was star-studded: five-time Pro Bowler Aqib Talib, three-time Pro Bowler Chris Harris Jr. and budding star Bradley Roby.
As a seldom-used member of the group nicknamed the “No Fly Zone,” Doss still found ways to learn. He played in multiple spots, subbing in at nickel for Harris and at outside corner for Talib and Roby. He became a special teams stalwart. He picked the brain of Talib, who is up to third on the NFL’s all-time pick-six list with 10, for tips on how to turn interceptions into scores. The key, Talib told him, is to always hit the sideline.
Doss’ exit from Denver was not a smooth one — in the midst of a six-game losing streak, the Broncos cut him on Thanksgiving Day. ESPN reported that Doss was late to a meeting that morning, and was gone by the afternoon.
On Twitter, Doss voiced his frustration with general manager John Elway and director of player personnel Matt Russell, accusing them of “putting out fake news” about him being an issue in the locker room. That tweet has since been deleted — which is emblematic of Doss’ view of the incident, now months in the past.
“I’ve never been a problem in the locker room …” he said. “Even here, I’m loved in the locker room. And it’s no hard feelings with Denver. They’re the ones who drove me to show love, and I enjoyed being there. I enjoyed the fans. But here? I love it here, too.”
A new comfort level
Doss — who was also on the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad briefly in 2017 — cited plenty of specifics. The Panthers have a winning mentality, similar to his Broncos teams. He likes the environment Charlotte provides.
Most importantly, he’s comfortable with his fellow defensive backs. There’s plenty of competition for the No. 2 corner spot, but that doesn’t get in the way. Just a few weeks ago, the Panthers secondary took a group trip to Topgolf.
For a player who cares about team culture — and also relishes competition, big plays and a chance to prove his consistency — Carolina seems like a strong landing spot.
“You can tell when someone belongs here, and that’s the vibe I’ve been getting,” Doss said. “They’ve walked with me since I’ve been here.”