There were three separate on-field sessions for the Carolina Panthers’ minicamp this weekend, and rookie left tackle Greg Little walked on and off the practice field before and after each one of them with a different player or coach.
On Friday, for example, Little entered the first session of the day alongside special teams coordinator Ben Jacobs — an odd pairing, it seemed — and walked out with offensive coordinator Norv Turner, chatting the entire time.
“It’s just been conversations about having a good practice and staying focused,” Little told the Observer while walking off the field upon the conclusion of the minicamp Saturday morning. “Playing with intensity ... But most of it has just been about how my day is going so far.”
But according to head coach Ron Rivera, it’s a little more than that. When the most crucial aspect of rookie minicamp for players is retention, from a coach’s perspective, asking questions and absorbing information becomes that much more important — so these small conversations between Little and various staffers don’t go unrecognized.
“Probably the biggest thing that you notice from Greg is that he’s paying attention to a lot of things,” Rivera said. “He sees a lot of things and he’s trying to stay involved. That’s great, because that means he wants to learn and he’s trying to learn quickly. That’s a huge plus.”
That means in the classroom, too.
The Panthers made a change in minicamp this year, staying in meetings and diving into playbooks for longer stretches because they only have one available practice field as construction on the climate-controlled bubble continues.
Little, the Panthers’ second-round pick out of Ole Miss, loves the 90-minute meetings other players might catch themselves dozing through, as they try to make the jump from college sessions to the NFL’s.
“That was an adjustment, but it wasn’t bad,” he said. “I love football. I could be in meetings all day talking about football. It’s been pretty pleasant so far....
“The meetings are pretty crucial to your learning process, so I just have been trying to stay focused and take it one play at a time, and soak it all in.”
But to Little, the best part of spring and summer workouts comes later, when he can put pads on in training camp and put to rest the predraft comments from some analysts that labeled him as “soft”.
“It’s not a fair label,” he said, chuckling. “I’m ready to get back on the field with pads and be aggressive, and show people that I have the mean streak, too.”
One of the more important matchups for Little this spring and summer will be against fellow rookie Brian Burns, the Panthers’ first-round pick. Burns, a hybrid defensive end and outside linebacker, has a notable arsenal of moves and counters — including a nasty spin — and the two have already begun the two-step they’ll dance all summer as they face each other in drills.
“He’s young, athletic, quick, understands how to rush,” Little said. “He’s a pass-rush guy. I’m a high pass-pro(tection) guy. So it’s fun whenever we’re out there doing pass-pro. We’re always trying to outsmart each other. He knows I can switch it up at any time, so he’s just trying to outthink me. I’m trying to outthink him. It’s a great matchup.”
Little actually has been playing this type of chess against Burns since high school, when the two faced off several times at Nike’s The Opening in Oregon. Little won most valuable player honors on the offensive line, he slyly slipped into his re-telling of their history, because he won so many one-on-one pass protection battles.
“It was a blast, man,” he said.
But facing Burns this time around might prove a little more challenging — which Little welcomes with the expectation that the reps will make him better.
“He’s gotten a lot bigger since then,” he laughed. “...My thing is that you have to think like a defensive end, and adjust, while also (taking) control as a tackle.”