They call it the “grid.”
Before each blistering training camp session in Spartanburg, the Carolina Panthers’ defensive linemen convene near the corner of one field. There, at the grid, they go through the motions of any tricks or techniques — or secrets — for their positions. Sometimes, as was the case Saturday, you’ll even catch defensive coordinator Eric Washington (formerly the team’s defensive line coach) giving out pointers.
Essentially, the grid is where you go for a little extra education.
And Marquis Haynes, a rookie defensive end from Mississippi, is soaking up as many tidbits as he can.
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“Couple of weeks ago, I asked (Julius Peppers), ‘When you get to level (position), what do you do?’” Haynes said Sunday after Carolina’s penultimate camp session, “and he said, ‘Just meet me at the grid in the morning.’
“So we’re out there walking through, and he was teaching me how you stab or club to get around. That’s a big tool right there.”
As an undersized but dangerously fast rookie, Haynes knows he has room to improve. But Peppers is far from the only person Haynes has reached out to — Washington gave Haynes some one-on-one instruction Saturday, and Mario Addison (who is ahead of him on the depth chart) has been there for him since his arrival.
“I’m kinda like his little brother now, you know?” Haynes said. “Coach (Washington) got on me, told me, ‘Mario, he’s your big brother.’ Because he said he’s the biggest brother (laughs).
“They’ve all been on me, and it’s been positive ever since. They always correct me on my negative techniques.”
Listed at 6-2 and only 235 pounds, Haynes doesn’t have the build to physically dominate opposing offensive linemen. He can’t bully through them with brute strength or his frame alone. But as his 32 career sacks at Ole Miss demonstrate, he can still be an incredibly effective edge rusher.
Speed will do that for you.
And really, that’s where any discussion of Haynes’ potential has to begin. His immediate burst off the ball — not just a quick reaction time, but being truly fast as an athlete — puts him in favorable situations against offensive linemen. The trick there is, you can’t just create a chance for yourself — you’ve got to finish the play.
That is where the grid comes in.
Haynes’ speed will place him in favorable positions on the field, especially catching offensive linemen off kilter, but until he hones the details of his technique at the grid, playing time may be more difficult to come by.
“Obviously he brings elite get-off and speed as an edge rusher. That should really challenge protection schemes, especially with whoever is assigned to him,” Washington said. “We want to teach him the foundations — the basics — and then from there, start to identify ways that we can use him specifically.”
Haynes knows he still has to refine the details of playing defensive end, but he also has a specific mindset about doing so. Namely, that learning is expected ... but not to sit idly by between lessons.
“Honestly, I’m just here to contribute what I can,” Haynes said. “If I do go out there with the ones, I’m making sure I get our first (team) offense better.
“I’m making sure they get the best of what they can, because ... I’ve gotta make sure (they’re) ready for the next game.”
At practice Sunday, Haynes said he finally felt like he’d put some elements of technique together with his speed. The trick now is learning even more about the details of the position — how to spin around tackles or catch them on the heels of their feet — and then apply it consistently.
As was the case with Addison’s development before him, that’s something Haynes can only learn with time.
Well, that ... and the grid.