New-look Raiders, fresh-faced Panthers kick off 2020 season
The Las Vegas Raiders and Carolina Panthers embraced the change theme in the offseason.
For the Raiders, Sunday is the first game under the Las Vegas label after relocating the franchise from Oakland.
The Panthers play for the first time under coach Matt Rhule and will have quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who had been playing for a divisional rival, set to make his debut with the team.
The pair of teams that failed to reach the postseason last year meet Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
The Panthers went 5-11 last season, losing their final eight games. By then, Ron Rivera had been removed as coach.
Rhule became the fifth head coach in franchise history, leaving his college position at Baylor to give it a try in the NFL.
“We want to be a tough, hard-working team that prepares at a high level,” said Rhule, whose only previous NFL job was as an assistant offensive line coach with the New York Giants in 2012. “Playing a lot of new guys, a lot of young guys, they can’t act like rookies. They’ve got to go play like veterans.”
Among the veterans still around Carolina is running back Christian McCaffrey, who signed a four-year extension in the offseason after clearing 1,000 yards in both receiving and rushing. McCaffrey was third in the NFL in rushing (1,387) and the 24-year-old had 19 total touchdowns.
He will be a dynamic fit in the offense of new coordinator Joe Brady, who jumped to the NFL from LSU.
Bridgewater said Rhule has created good vibes with the Panthers despite learning many things on the fly with a restructured offseason and without preseason games.
“He brings out the best in the guys in the competition periods,” Bridgewater said of the coach.
Bridgewater excelled as a New Orleans fill-in for injured Drew Brees last season. Now, he takes the spot once held by Cam Newton, who was let go after nine seasons with the Panthers.
“I do have a good feel for how good we can be,” Bridgewater said. “Coach is getting the best out of us. Guys are eager to get better every day.”
The game will be played without fans in the stadium because of state restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Raiders were 7-9 last year in their second season since Jon Gruden returned to coach the team. Eighteen players on the 53-man roster weren’t on the active roster at any point last season.
“We’re hoping the younger guys can continue to progress,” Gruden said.
Rhule said that while he was a college coach, Gruden offered him pointers and became a mentor of sorts during his career. He said it will be an honor to face Gruden’s team in his first game in the new job.
Aside from veteran quarterback Derek Carr, the Raiders are ready to unleash what they hope will soon be their dominant running back in second-year star Josh Jacobs. Jacobs rushed for 1,150 yards as a rookie behind a rugged offensive line despite nagging injuries late in the season.
The Raiders are expecting much more of an impact from a revamped receiving core.
Gruden said it’s important that the receiving corps are in sync after eight different players started at flanker spots last year. The Raiders didn’t have any player miss the entire practice based on an injury at mid-week.
Rhule said the Panthers have a slight advantage without disclosing a lot about the team’s schemes with a new staff. Carolina’s lone injury concern going into the first game is left guard Dennis Daley, who is questionable with an ankle injury.
The Panthers’ overhaul also includes the need to replace linebacker Luke Kuechly, a standout who retired in what some observers considered near the prime of his career. That leaves Carolina with the starting linebacker corps of Shaq Thompson, Tahir Whitehead and Jermaine Carter Jr. Whitehead played the past two seasons for the Raiders.
The teams have split six previous all-time meetings, with the Raiders winning the most-recent clash in 2016 in Oakland.
This is Carolina’s fourth opening game at home since 2010.
–Field Level Media