Carolina Panthers: Examining the Derrek Thomas/Matt Rhule connection

(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) Derrek Thomas
(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) Derrek Thomas /

Will the close relationship between Derrek Thomas and head coach Matt Rhule be enough for the cornerback to make the Carolina Panthers’ 53-man roster.

There are only 35 days left for the Carolina Panthers to prepare for their Week 1 encounter against the Las Vegas Raiders. The time for talk and speculation is almost over. And this will come as a relief for everyone associated with the organization.

It has been an unprecedented offseason period in more ways than one for the Carolina Panthers. They have gutted their roster from top to bottom in a bid to get them back to contending sooner rather than later. And the current climate had made things extremely difficult for the team’s new coaching staff to implement their way of thinking.

Getting to training camp has sped things up. But even this looks far different as teams across the league look to make things as safe as possible as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country.

This turbulent preparation period could impact the Panthers more than most. But the lack of expectations might be something that can work in their favor is everything clicks into place right away.

They have some formidable weapons on offense for new coordinator Joe Brady to work with. And if Carolina’s defense holds up in the face of some exceptional opposition, then there is a real potential to surprise those who have written off their chances.

Continuing our countdown feature ahead of the new season, we now turn our attention to Carolina’s No. 45. Derrek Thomas comes to the Panthers with a slim chance of making the 53-man roster. And nobody will know more about the cornerback than Matt Rhule.

The pair worked closely together during Thomas’ time at both Temple and Baylor. And his fierce loyalty to Rhule over the years is giving him a chance to forge a professional career after failing to hear his name called in the 2019 NFL Draft.

How will the Matt Rhule/Derrek Thomas connection transition to the Carolina Panthers?

A short spell with the Seattle Seahawks followed in undrafted free agency. But Thomas didn’t do enough to earn a prolonged stay with the organization.

The player will be hoping that reuniting with Rhule could be the catalyst behind a better opportunity. But it is hard to overstate the challenge awaiting him in the coming weeks.

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Surviving the first round of cuts before the deadline was just the first hurdle for Thomas. He must push his way up the depth chart in double-quick time during training camp. And not having a preseason schedule to get minutes on the field is another thing that could hamper him and others in 2020.

The Panthers appear to have their top-three positions cemented with Donte Jackson, Eli Apple, and fourth-rounder Troy Pride Jr. There are a host of players looking to secure other spots on the depth chart with more in-game experience in the NFL than Thomas.

Rhule thought enough of Thomas to bring him from Temple to Baylor in college. And it is clear the head coach thinks a lot of the player and the skills he brings to the table.

Thomas ended his college career with 44 solo tackles, 56 combined tackles, two interceptions, and 19 pass deflections. Much more will be needed to make an NFL roster. But the player will have benefitted from a small taste of the pro-level last season.

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Whether than will be enough to make his presence felt on the Panthers is a different story. Thomas has a close bond with Rhule. And there might be more opportunities in Carolina than elsewhere for unproven players given the relative lack of expectations for the organization in 2020.