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Panthers minicamp recap: Piñeiro dishes on offseason absence, Thompson on recovery

Mike Kaye and Alex Zietlow, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Football

Eddy Piñeiro doesn’t want to talk about his private relationship with the Carolina Panthers. He refuses to discuss his contract and won’t comment on whether he wants a new deal, despite entering a lame-duck situation this summer.

But the veteran kicker — who has been with Carolina since 2022 — will proudly acknowledge his current standing on the field-goal percentage list. He went out of his way to address his efficiency over the past two seasons with the Panthers in his return to Charlotte this week after missing the entirety of the voluntary portion of the offseason program.

“It was a big offseason for me,” Piñeiro told reporters Wednesday, the final day of mandatory minicamp and the last the team will be together until training camp begins in late July. “I have a lot of goals. I want to have a great season this year. Third most accurate kicker in NFL history right now, and my goal is to be No. 1. And so that’s how I’m going to attack this offseason, and that’s my goal. That’s what I’m going to work toward.”

Piñeiro is No. 3 in all-time field-goal percentage in the NFL, just behind contemporaries Justin Tucker and Harrison Butker. Piñeiro has made 89% of his field-goal attempts since entering the league in 2019, while Butker has made 89.14% and Tucker has made 90.183% during their careers with the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens.

When asked if he’ll be here at the start of training camp, Piñeiro answered in the affirmative and reiterated his top goal.

“I’ll be here,” he said. “Ready to kick. And like I said, try to get that No. 1 field goal percentage in the NFL. I’m close. So that’s my goal.”

While Piñeiro won’t discuss his contract aspirations, his desire to one-up Butker and Tucker has a financial element out of necessity. Piñeiro is entering the final year of his contract with just $150,000 in guaranteed money on $2 million in base salary.

Butker will make $3.9 million in 2024, while Tucker — who some consider the best kicker ever — will make $5.15 million. When given a ballpark range of Tucker’s base salary in 2024, Piñeiro’s eyes widened.

“Oh wow, nice!” Piñeiro said, in a trademarked earnestness. “That’s awesome. That would be nice. Hopefully I can get there one day.”

Piñeiro returns to drills to end the offseason program

Piñeiro took on the bulk of the field-goal reps on Wednesday after sitting around watching practice on Tuesday. Piñeiro said the handling of reps was part of the plan by the organization.

Piñeiro was asked if he wanted to be part of the organization this season, and he answered with an enthusiastic yes. However, the kicker was guarded on why he chose to skip organized team activities over the past two weeks.

Piñeiro took several warm-up reps from a tee during practice. He later took part in field-goal drills with the special teams unit, making two of four attempts. Still, Piñeiro said he didn’t feel any rust after spending the spring away from the facility.

Piñeiro confirmed that head coach Dave Canales reached out to him during his absence. The pair discussed life outside of football in those conversations. Piñeiro also said that he kept in touch with new special teams coordinator Tracy Smith throughout the offseason program.

Piñeiro said it was important to rejoin the team this week and speak with the new staff in person.

“I’ve appreciated this place a lot, obviously, being here the last two years, and not being able to bounce around, and having the stats that I’ve had the last two years,” he said. “I’m super grateful, I’m grateful for the team and the coaches — past coaches, present coaches — I’m super grateful.”

Shaq Thompson feels great mentally and physically

Longtime Panthers leader Shaq Thompson has a lot to smile about these days.

He recently got married and his family life is going well. He is also running around on a familiar practice field without a pair of major injuries holding him back.

Thompson underwent surgery on his ankle after a season-ending injury sidelined him in Week 2 of last year. He also had a procedure done on a groin injury that had hampered him since 2020, the linebacker acknowledged on Wednesday. But any confidence that he might’ve lacked in his body — a natural feeling as one recovers from significant injury — has been restored this spring, he said.

“The hardest thing to get back was to build that confidence,” Thompson said. “You lose a lot of strength, a lot of ability on your right side, and you gotta compensate. So my body’s been compensating over these years, and so it’s finally back healthy, so I’m trying to get back and learn how to function the right way.

“The biggest thing probably was confidence that I was lacking early on. But shoot, it’s back now.”

Thompson looked healthy throughout the week as he made plays on defense. On Wednesday, he nearly hauled in an interception toward the sideline on a throw made by starting quarterback Bryce Young — a play he shrugged and smiled about post-practice: “I just missed it, couldn’t catch the ball!”

 

Thompson has seen teammates come and go over the past two offseasons, but the veteran has embraced the new faces around him this spring. He has been particularly happy to pair with fellow veteran linebacker Josey Jewell.

“Happy,” in fact, might be an understatement.

“Man, Josey’s my guy,” Thompson said. “Him and Uce (former Panthers linebacker Frankie Luvu) are completely different. Somebody’s gonna say something about Frankie, so let me go ahead and say that, ‘They are completely different.’ But I love Josey man. Josey’s a character.

“He came in here. If you come to watch us, it kind of feels like we’ve been playing with each other for a while, playing next to each other for a while. That’s just the trust that we have. And especially, I know he knows the defense. So I have nothing to worry about. He might be teaching me some stuff, you know what I mean? But I love playing with Josey, alongside with Josey. He keeps me accountable, I keep him accountable, we keep the defense accountable.”

Bryce Young finding chemistry with Diontae Johnson

It was a busy day for the offensive duo of Young and wide receiver Diontae Johnson. The pair connected on a handful of throws during team drills, including an impressive leaping grab by Johnson in the end zone during red-zone 11-on-11 drills.

Johnson and Young displayed their chemistry throughout the week, and Canales — a former quarterbacks and wide receivers coach — likes what he’s seen from the pair.

“When the opportunities come, Bryce definitely wants to take advantage of those — to throw to Diontae,” Canales said. “What I’ve seen, Bryce is learning, even in just a short time, that Diontae is going to make the right football decision on these plays. And he’s a guy who just finds open space, and one on one, he’s got some really good stuff on the line, on releases, in separating at the top of his routes.”

Young had a trio of highlight throws to Johnson, who was seemingly open all the time. The veteran receiver called himself a “diamond in the rough” on Tuesday, but on Wednesday, his performance mirrored that of a standout No. 1 wide receiver.

“It’s been great being able to throw to him, to work with him,” Young said. “He’s a super hard working guy. Super competitive. Anytime in those team periods from him, and really from everyone, that urgency and stress to treat everything like it’s a game. We want to have game-like reactions, game-like communication. And I think that’s really how you learn the most.”

Young had a couple of other connections during practice. He had a pass broken up by cornerback Dane Jackson on a target to wideout Terrace Marshall Jr. during team drills. On the very next play, Young went right back to Marshall on a crossing route that end with a streak toward the end zone.

“I think he’s just out there, playing free,” Young said of Marshall. “You could see the confidence. He knows who he is. He’s a super dynamic guy, can run every route in the tree, makes big-time catches, and you know, you can kind of just see this being a new staff, a new team, a new fresh start for everyone, and he’s being himself. Making plays, being dynamic.

“So I’m excited to continue working with him, and he’s continuing to grow like we all are.”

Quick hits

— The following players watched practice: S Jordan Fuller, CB Chau Smith-Wade, OLB D.J. Wonnum (quad), DL Nick Thurman (hand), LB Josey Jewell, S Nick Scott, OLB Amare Barno (ACL) and WR Jalen Coker.

— The following players weren’t seen at practice: WR Xavier Legette (hamstring), RB Miles Sanders (heel), OLB DJ Johnson (knee), OLB Eku Leota (calf) and OT Yosh Nijman (undisclosed). Canales said Johnson, who was injured Tuesday, got good news following a check from trainers.

— Backup quarterback Andy Dalton had another impressive throw on Wednesday. He fired a rainbow shot down the field to connect with wideout Ihmir Smith-Marsette for a touchdown in 11-on-11 drills. Canales said after practice that Smith-Marsette has made an impressive play every day of practice.

— Canales singled out defensive tackle Derrick Brown, tight end Tommy Tremble and running back Chuba Hubbard as standouts of the offseason program. Canales complimented Brown’s play under the guidance of defensive line coach Todd Wash. He also praised Tremble and Hubbard for their work ethic as young leaders on the offense. Tremble and Hubbard are both competing for starting jobs at their respective positions this summer.

— Canales said he’s excited about the versatility of his tight end group. Along with praising Tremble, Canales went out of his way to heap compliments on veterans Ian Thomas, Jordan Matthews and Stephen Sullivan. He also acknowledged the work of fourth-round pick Ja’Tavion Sanders in the offseason. Canales said Thomas, in particular, has had a “fantastic spring.”

— Reigning UFL Offensive Player of the Year, wideout/tight end Hakeem Butler, was present at practice on Wednesday for a tryout. The 2019 fourth-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals spent the spring with the St. Louis Battlehawks. The 6-foot-5, 227-pound playmaker caught 45 passes for 652 yards and five touchdowns in the spring league. He previously appeared in two games for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2020. Butler has yet to make a regular-season catch in the NFL.

— Kick returners for the Panthers on Wednesday: Smith-Marsette, WR David Moore, CB D’Shawn Jamison, RB Raheem Blackshear, RB Mike Boone and RB Jaden Shirden.

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