CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The Carolina Panthers veterans finally hit the field for their first walk thru today. But it has already been a very interesting training camp for Panthers general manager Marty Hurney.
On Monday, Panthers edge rusher Christian Miller opted out of this season due to concerns about COVID-19.
This probably won’t be the last brush with a COVID issue this season for the team.
“These are different times,” said Hurney. “We totally understand if a player wants to opt out. We totally respect that decision. The safety of everyone in this building and the safety of their families comes first for us.”
Last week, the Panthers made a surprise release when they cut kicker Graham Gano. The veteran missed all of last season with a leg injury, but was said to be on the mend by head coach Matt Rhule in a zoom pressser with the media on July 27th. A couple of days later, Gano was gone.
On Monday, Hurney explained the decision and yup, it is COVID related.
The team needed to be at 80 players by August 3rd for them to be able to have the entire team in Bank of America Stadium at one time.
Joey Slye proved he could kick in the NFL last season and they decided, Gano had to go.
Slye went 8 for 11 on field goals over 50 yards. He made 8 field goals of 50+ yards which led the NFL and set a Panthers franchise record. He had 66 touchbacks which was the 3rd most in the NFL.
“To get to 80 players, we had to make some hard decisions,” said Hurney. “We think the world of Graham and he’s a very talented kicker but we decided to go with Joey.”
The tough decision are just beginning for Hurney and the Panthers front office as COVID will present a lot of issues for the rest of this season.
To help teams with the potential of a positive COVID case or more players opting out during the regular season, the league is allowing the practice squad of each team to expand from 10 to 16 players.
“That’s where you’re going to go first as far as bringing players up,” said Hurney. “They’ve been through your testing process and they can participate in meeting and practices just like they have been doing as practice players. You can make that transition much easier.”
So the days of signing a guy off the streets and letting him practice or play the day after he signs just won’t be a reality this season. It’s at least a 4 day process of COVID testing before they can even enter the building.
There is no doubt that this pandemic will be a game changer in the NFL in 2020.