New-age Panthers have familiar faces for Matt Rhule

Familiar faces for the Carolina Panthers have moved on in a monumental franchise transformation.

Ron Rivera is in Washington D.C., Cam Newton's free agency is lingering, Greg Olsen is in Washington state, Trai Turner is in Los Angeles after a trade and Luke Kuechly is still there, but he's retired from being one of the game's preeminent linebackers. And on and on.

Matt Rhule is taking the Panthers into a new era as he will make his debut as an NFL head coach.

The changes are abundant, but the familiarity is not.

As NFL Research points out, Rhule has nine Panthers that he has previously coached during his seven combined seasons as head coach at Temple and then Baylor. And all nine are new additions to the roster.

Perhaps the most notable talents are former Temple players Robby Anderson at wide receiver and P.J. Walker at quarterback, the former coming from the Jets and the latter coming from the short-lived XFL, where he was the frontrunner for league most valuable player.

While Rhule is new on head-coaching experience in the NFL, he certainly has experience with a crop of his current players.

In addition to Walker and Anderson, former Temple players include: linebackers Tahir Whitehead and Sam Franklin, wide receiver Keith Kirkwood and tight end Colin Thompson.

From Rhule's days at Baylor there is center Sam Tecklenburg, defensive tackle Bravvion Roy and cornerback Derrek Thomas.

Heading into his rookie season at the helm of the Panthers, Rhule's NFL experience previously stands as one year as an assistant offensive line coach with the Giants in 2012.

However, Rhule isn't lacking a past of turning a team around. He took Baylor from a 1-11 squad in 2017 to an 11-3 program in 2019 before his departure in the hopes of rescuing the Panthers from the doldrums of two consecutive losing seasons and three sub-.500 campaigns in the last four. Having lost Super Bowl 50, Carolina has made the playoffs just once since then and has gone a combined 29-35 with the aberration of an 11-5 showing in 2017 that now feels so far away.

Key in Rhule's renovation will no doubt be free-agent signee Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback.

Bridgewater will not just replace the face of the Panthers franchise – Newton – but look to turn around a last-place squad that was 20th in the NFL in points scored.

On the heels of going 5-0 as a starter last season with the Saints, Bridgewater joins forces with Rhule in the aspirations of becoming the first new free-agent QB and first-time head coach to make the playoffs since the Dolphins' tandem of coach Tony Sparano and quarterback Chad Pennington in 2008, per NFL Research. A former Pro Bowler with the Vikings, Bridgewater just so happens to be perfect at 4-0 in career starts against the Buccaneers, Falcons and Saints.

So Rhule has a winner at quarterback as he looks to turn around the Panthers in the suddenly high-profile NFC South. And as the rookie coach looks to get familiar with all things Panthers, he has some familiar faces – at least nine of them, anyway – to help him on his way.

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