Ever since Matt Rhule became the head coach of the Carolina Panthers in 2020, the word "process" has been a constant as he implements his vision of Panthers football. But as he prepares to begin on-field work in his second season at the helm, Rhule's process was called into question by one of the most important players on his inaugural Carolina squad.
After the release of the Panthers' 2021 schedule on Wednesday night, Rhule was asked about comments made by former quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who claimed during an appearance on the All Things Covered podcast that the Panthers did not devote time to practicing red zone or two-minute offense last season.
Rhule began by stating that he would never talk badly of or contradict any players past or present, and maintained his support on a personal level for Bridgewater, who was traded to the Denver Broncos shortly before the 2021 NFL Draft.
"I'm on record as stating how I feel about Teddy. I expect him to do great things, I will always cheer for him. I'm sorry he maybe doesn't maybe feel the same way about some things," said Rhule. "But for me, I'm gonna be the same guy. I'm gonna continue to always support the guys who played for me."
While Rhule did not get into specifics on how the Panthers run their practices, he made a point to mention that "we try to address all of the situations" and that he felt good about how his team conducts practice.
"I'm not gonna delve into specifics about our process, I'm going to let that be specific to us," Rhule said. "But I feel really good about our preparation and the amount of work that our coaches put in and the amount of work that our players put in, the amount of practice work -- I think we push them in a really smart way.
"When you have 140 guys in a locker room, guys will disagree on some things sometimes. You can't ask everyone to agree with everything, but we head into each year trying to be better than we were the last year, and I think we'll do that again this year. But I feel really good about what we do. I want to make sure I say that -- I feel really good about the way we practice and our process. I'm disappointed to hear that he didn't feel the same way."
Bridgewater's comments about red zone offense and two-minute drills were eye-raising specifically because Carolina's offense struggled in both areas during the 2020 season. The Panthers ranked 28th in the NFL in red zone efficiency despite a talented group of offensive skill players, and they were 0-8 in end-of-game situations. This resulted in a number of wins left on the table by the Panthers, and Bridgewater's failure to execute in these situations factored into his being traded to Denver in favor of former New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold.
Rhule was careful not to come across in a way that would make it seem like he was "speaking back" at his former quarterback, and shared that he and Bridgewater talked personally after the Panthers dealt him to the Broncos.
"He's the ultimate professional, which I've said to you guys many times," said Rhule. "He understood the way things go, and when we traded him I called him, I talked to him. And at the end of the day, I hope that Denver is a great situation for him. I like who he is as a man, I like who he is as a football player, I like who he is as a leader. And I know Vic Fangio and those guys are gonna like him as well.
"I think if you went back through my comments all of last year, you can't find a bad comment. I don't have anything negative to say, I think he's a great dude."
Trying to figure out the quarterback position has been an early sore point for Rhule's tenure as Panthers head coach, as Bridgewater -- who was signed as the replacement for franchise great Cam Newton -- was traded just one year into a three-year contract. Rhule will now turn to a reclamation project under center in Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.