Editor's note: Offseason programs have not begun as of April 6. The NFL sent a memo to teams saying options still are being considered on when they can begin. Panthers GM Marty Hurney said Monday: "We're still waiting for the league to tell us when that starts."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers won’t see the blazing speed of free-agent signee Robby Anderson when offseason workouts begin on Monday, but teammates will likely see the face of the former New York Jets receiver on their screens.
Carolina is one of five teams that can start their offseason programs on Monday because they have new coaches. The others are the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins.
But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, players aren't allowed to report to team facilities, which are shut down. They are working from their homes on iPads or similar devices and are meeting with coaches on video calls.
The Panthers already have sent iPads to players.
“Pretty much web stuff,” Anderson said.
Quarterback P.J. Walker, who played with Anderson in college for the Temple Owls under now-Panthers coach Matt Rhule, said the “group FaceTime” sessions won’t be ideal. However, he believes they’ll be beneficial.
“It’ll be a jump-start whether we’re together or not,” Walker said. “When we eventually do get together, we’ll already have gone over those things and seen the plays.”
Walker and Anderson are two of four former Temple players who have joined Rhule, who was the head coach at Temple from 2013-16 and an assistant coach there from 2007-11. The others are linebacker Tahir Whitehead and wide receiver Keith Kirkwood.
Carolina also has nine assistant coaches who were with Rhule at Temple.
For Anderson and Walker, it’s like a Temple reunion.
“That’s what it feels like,” said Walker, who most recently played for the XFL's Houston Roughnecks. “We’re just getting guys that will benefit the team.”
“Just a lot of speed,” Walker said of Anderson. “And he’s a true winner. He’s a competitor. His ball skills were everything. Being at school with him for three years, he was a great teammate.”
Anderson and Walker shared a breakout moment at Temple in 2013. Anderson, then a redshirt sophomore, ran a deep post over the middle early against SMU, and Walker connected with him for a 42-yard touchdown.
Anderson went on to set a Temple single-game record with 239 receiving yards on nine catches in the 59-49 loss during Rhule’s first season. Walker completed his first 16 pass attempts for three touchdowns, and finished with 293 yards passing and four touchdowns. He also rushed 14 times for 92 yards and a touchdown.
“Me and him were going crazy,” Anderson said.
Anderson called Walker one of his closest friends. The only XFL games he watched before COVID-19 shut down the new league's season were the ones in which Walker played for the Roughnecks.
Anderson looks forward to rekindling that relationship in Charlotte. He also can’t wait to work with new Carolina starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a fellow South Florida native.
The two were teammates briefly with the New York Jets in training camp in 2017 before Bridgewater was traded to the New Orleans Saints.
“We had a strong connection,” Anderson said. “Teddy helped me grow as a man. There was things I was going through at the time, still adjusting to the NFL. He’s easy for me to talk to because we come from the same culture and similar backgrounds.
“It’s easy for me to talk football with him. We have a natural chemistry on the field.”
Anderson’s chemistry with Rhule wasn’t natural. He admitted earlier this year they didn’t always see eye to eye but chalked that up to his being young and stubborn.
Off-field troubles followed Anderson into the NFL. He was arrested twice in nine months in 2017-18 for incidents involving traffic misdemeanor violations and more than a dozen traffic citations in Florida. In college, he was academically ineligible for the 2014 season at Temple.
But the academic problems led to a bond with Rhule for which Anderson is forever grateful.
"He stood on the table for me numerous times, and stood on the table with the university to get me back into school to open up that door for me to right my wrongs and get to be in the position that I'm in today," Anderson said.
“Coach Rhule fought hard for literally a whole year. Finally, they decided to change the university rule, and that allowed me to get the chance to come back in the summer.”
With Rhule and Bridgewater in Carolina, it made the decision simple to sign a two-year, $20 million deal with Carolina over any offers from the Jets or other teams. Anderson had 20 touchdown catches in four seasons with the Jets.
“I know winning is in his blood,” Anderson said of Rhule, who took Temple from two wins in his first season to 10 each in his third and fourth seasons. “I know that’s what he’s here to do. There wasn’t much he had to sell me on. When I saw Teddy sign there, it really was the icing on the cake.”
Until teams are allowed to again open up their facilities, Anderson and the other new players Carolina signed in free agency will have to settle for seeing each other on video.
But that’s OK.
“It’s been a little mind-boggling,” Anderson said of having to go through free agency and now the start of offseason workouts from a distance. “It’s been a little frustrating. Seeing what’s going on, I feel bad for people who really are affected by this financially and with jobs. I just am trying to stay safe, stay at home.”