CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jeremy Chinn wanted to do something different during the offseason, so the fourth-year Carolina Panthers hybrid defender joined a Pilates class recommended by his trainer in Los Angeles.
“It was hard,’’ Chinn said. “But I was like, ‘This is something that is going to make me better,’ so I continued to do it. I can definitely feel the difference. A lot more flexibility.’’
Flexibility always has been Chinn’s strength -- not in the small muscles that Pilates improved, but in his ability to play multiple defensive positions.
It’s that flexibility that makes the 2020 second-round draft pick out of Southern Illinois arguably the most important player in a Carolina defense transitioning from a 4-3 base to a 3-4.
“We see him as a superhero,’’ linebackers coach Peter Hansen said. “We just don’t know which cape he’ll wear from day to day.’’
Chinn has worn the nickel cape for most of the offseason workouts. The Panthers have been careful not to reveal plans for the rest as they are in the early stages of building the defense.
But it’s safe to say Chinn, who primarily played linebacker as a rookie and safety the past two seasons, will play those roles in new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero’s scheme in addition to a few more.
“It’s going to be different,’’ coach Frank Reich said.
ESPN analyst Matt Bowen said Chinn will be the “key to the defense’’ primarily because of his ability to match up from so many different positions.
He can picture Chinn flexing out and covering Atlanta Falcons rookie running back Bijan Robinson, whose ability as a receiver set him apart from other backs in the 2023 draft. He can picture Chinn matching up with elite tight ends in the league because of his speed and size (6-foot-3, 220 pounds).
He can picture Chinn as a nickel back or an extra defensive back in the dime package that is becoming more prevalent in the NFL. He can also picture Chinn as a stack linebacker playing the edge to cut off the ball on the run, and even covering a deep pass as a safety.
“He allows you to counter and have a matchup piece all over the field from a defensive perspective,’’ Bowen said. “There’s a lot of different ways you can utilize him to counter offenses.’’
Splash plays -- interceptions, sacks, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, touchdowns, tackles for loss and quarterback hits -- almost disappeared from Chinn’s game last season as he played almost exclusively at safety.
After recording 15 in each of his first two seasons, Chinn had only four in 2022.
“You kind of get lost back there,’’ he said. “It’ll be different this upcoming season.’’
Bowen expects the Panthers to play a lot more dime coverage (six defensive backs), like New England, Tennessee, Kansas City and Dallas did last season, with the NFL becoming more of a passing league than ever.
The Panthers had 770 snaps out of nickel last season and only two out of dime.
That Carolina has 18 defensive backs on the roster to 12 wide receivers shows it is looking at all possibilities.
“You’re not going to be in your base front as much as you think you are,’’ Bowen said. “Subsets are more important, so you better have a lot of defensive backs. But you have to have the talent to do that. With a player like Chinn, you can do that.’’
Chinn is embracing his role even though it hasn’t been completely defined. That’s one reason he feels so good about his decision to add Pilates to his training routine.
He’d like to add it to the routine for all his teammates .
“So, really, it exposes every weaknesses in your body and forces you to make it stronger,’’ he said.
Secondary coach Jonathan Cooley says he believes Chinn’s strengths will shine brighter once the pads go on. He’s not ready to define Chinn’s role now because even he doesn’t know what it’ll be.
“His skill set is so versatile, it is to be determined,’’ he said.
Hansen, admitting he stole the superhero and cape line from the secondary coaches, agreed.
"Height, weight, speed ... and then we see him actually do things on the field, and you’re like, ‘Whoa! I didn’t think he could do that,’" he said.
Chinn made one of those plays early during OTAs when he knocked down a deep pass from rookie quarterback Bryce Young, whom Carolina selected with the No. 1 overall pick of the draft.
Chinn goes back to Pilates in helping him make such plays.
“I feel a lot more flexible,’’ he said. “I trust my body. I trust my preparation. I trust what I’ve been through, so I can withstand.’’
As for what cape he prefers, Chinn laughed and said, “You have to stay tuned.’’