SPARTANBURG, SC – The Carolina Panthers ended part one of training camp this morning with a quick-paced practice as they prepped for their Thursday night game at the Philadelphia Eagles. Under new head coach Chip Kelly, the Eagles ran 86 offensive plays in their preseason opener against New England, far more than the average NFL team, so the pace needed to be quick.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera has been pleased with the practices at Wofford College, but reminded everyone, they are far from through. Today’s practice started nicely. “It was really good, really smooth. A lot of good things happened. We slowed down at the end. You could tell the guys were thinking of I-85 (the road from Spartanburg back home to Charlotte). The beginning of practice was good and smooth, but by the end, you could kind of tell they were wandering and I think they were thinking about going home. I wish they could have finished practice focused all the way through.”
Talking to the team after practice, Rivera stressed staying focused. “We can’t have distractions. I know this is our move…we’re going to be back in Charlotte the next time we get together and we’ve got to be able to stay focused and get ready to go up to Philadelphia to play them.”
Upon hearing the final air horn, Rivera said, “I was trying to think of what to say to these guys about being safe. The natural response is to try and get home as quick as you can and I just want them to be safe. It (the final horn) signifies the end of camp here and the beginning of camp in Charlotte. I’m trying to get these guys to understand we’re still in training camp basically, we’ve just moved from here back to Charlotte.”
With the new training camp rules, Rivera said he feels the Panthers accomplished a lot. “I really feel good about what we did, the way we did things, the way we changed schedules… some of the periods we added, some of the periods we took out…I really do feel good. I think it showed in the way we played the other night (a 24-17 win over the Chicago Bears on Friday). We were physical and aggressive, much more than we have been in the past in the first preseason game.”
Rivera was very pleased with nine on seven drills. “We had good tempo, they had a nice thud tempo and they were physical. I though that was good. It is a long practice. It’s funny, people talk about in my day we did double days, they weren’t two-and-a-half hour practices or two-hour-and-15 minute practices. They were an hour-forty-five. Today because of the way the rules are, you’ve got to put so many periods in, you’ve got to get so much done and you have a three-hour window to do it. It’s hard to keep focused…it’s hard to do because something happens…You know, something shiny and all of a sudden guys are distracted…that’s a part of it.”
To keep the players sharp, the coaching staff has been using two periods of physical play followed by an installation period and a special teams period. “Then we bring them back. Any time you can help these guys stay focused, you’re going to accomplish a lot. And I think we accomplished a lot.”
Rivera singled our Atmanti Edwards as a real surprise of camp. Edwards has been playing wide receiver as well as handling kick returns. “I like what we’ve got from Kenjon Barner (rookie running back from Oregon). I think he’s an exciting kid.” Tauren Poole (second-year running back from Tennessee) was also mentioned, as was veteran running back DeAngelo Williams, who is showing a lot of growth. Charles Godfrey (a veteran safety) has been a standout during the first three weeks of camp also.
The third-year head coach also has liked the consistency of veteran wide receiver Brandon LaFell as well as the veteran leadership from Steve Smith (receiver) and Jordan Gross (offensive tackle). He likes both the offensive and defensive lines, plus Rivera loves the linebacking crew. And then there’s Cam Newton…the third-year quarterback. His leadership has been questioned in the past, but Rivera is seeing some real growth from No. 1 this year.
“Probably the one thing…and I think about this…I really like how Cam is starting to step-up and exhibit that leadership you are looking for with your quarterback when he’s on the field. He’s still growing…still maturing. He did a lot of good things in this camp and I think the future for this team is positive. It’s heading in the right direction, but you won’t know until you start playing.”
When asked about the health of certain players, especially veteran linebacker Jon Beason and veteran running back Jonathan Stewart, Rivera could not say whether they would start the season on the PUP (physically unable to play) list or not. “We’ll see. Again, it’s a matter of how they are improving in terms of their health. I can’t predict that.” He has not heard they could be out 6 or 7 weeks, which is a good sign.
Depth is a source of concern for the coaching staff because of the injuries – the little knick-knack injuries we’ve had. I’d like to think we are answering the question at right guard. I would have loved to have (Edmund) Kugbila (fourth round pick) out this week, but unfortunately not, hopefully next week he’ll be back. But, if not, Garry Williams has done a great job at right guard this week, and we’re excited about that. Depth at tight end is a little bit of a question. Brandon Williams is stepping up so that’s helped us. Strong safety – Mike Mitchell has kind of taken the bull by the horns there. I’m not as concerned about cornerback as people think. Those guys are fighting it out and we’re going to have a tough decision in terms of who is going to earn that spot so I’m not concerned about it as much as like anyone else, I’m curious as to who’s going to step up there.
“Nate Chandler has been great at left tackle. He’s an athletic guy…very physical. He played well the other night. His run blocking really stood out and seeing his athleticism learning the position of left tackle. We’re excited and we hope he continues to grow and get better.”
The Panthers fly to Philadelphia tomorrow, play at Lincoln Financial Field Thursday evening, and return to Charlotte after the contest. They will practice at their Charlotte facility this weekend.
- My observation this year leads me to believe this Panthers’ team is more focused on the big picture. The players know they are in a very tough division, with two teams, New Orleans and Atlanta, ahead of them. In order to gain a playoff spot, those are the teams you must beat. Camp was faster-paced overall, and Cam Newton was all business. Even his backup, Derek Anderson, was very focused.
- The defense had its back to the offense today, turning around at the clap coming out of the huddle. This was done to prepare for the fast-paced Philadelphia Eagles offense.
- Domenik Hixson, a veteran wide receiver, has been nursing a hamstring injury. He said, “You go out there too early and have something happen, it could be even more devastating than a strain.” Safety first, is the Panthers credo this summer.
- The team took steps to limit soft-tissue injuries, but injuries happen. They did avoid major injuries to starters, though.
- Offensive tackle Byron Bell left practice early due to illness. Coach Rivera said there is a bug (stomach) going around camp.