Panthers in Spartanburg ‘crucible’ applies REAL heat to team chemistry

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 17: Jordan Poyer #21 of the Buffalo Bills sacks Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 17, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 17: Jordan Poyer #21 of the Buffalo Bills sacks Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 17, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

Things are heating up for both the Carolina Panthers and their fans…

You really do get something quite different from going to  Carolina Panthers training camp in Spartanburg, SC. In a break from my usual standards, I declare anyone who endured Monday’s 100-plus heat index earned the right to leave one game before the fourth quarter when the real season starts.

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Those few hundred who mostly clustered along a strip of shade in one end zone with sweaty kids in Kuechly jerseys, they put their fandom on high and deserve an attaboy! for coming, because that heat index was a special kind of wicked. Panthers were aware of it, timed all the sessions from 9:30-11:30, the (relative) coolest part of the day. Everyone is working in a literal crucible to fire up a unified team, even GM Marty Hurney spent some time on the field. Rivera continues to make no bones about how pads makes things a lot more real, and I maintain the betting begins now.

Relative to my decisions about going to Saratoga Racetrack in upstate NY and  betting on the ‘facts’ relative to a  conglomeration of 2-year olds, maidens, and claimers listed in Pink Sheets as training camp started, the Panther coaches will have a similar task with yea or nay selection decisions, albeit with more training reps in brutal  heat and humidity for evaluation. They could use some luck to find another jewel like the now-departed Andrew Norwell, who came to camp an undrafted left guard in 2014, became an All-Pro last year and is now earning major (5 yr.-$66.5M) coin in Jacksonville.

  • It only takes one look at Christian McCaffrey to notice the extra physique he came to camp with in 2018. He’s taken the ribbing good-naturedly by all accounts, but yeah, it looks like he’s flexed all the time. His stated mission is to break arm tackles, a couple extra pounds looks legitimate. When he and DJ Moore stand side by side, at 5’11” they are solidly built, definitely not just ‘little guys’.
  • Not seeing Run CMC (guy has plenty of handles) do anything was a small dang! It’s a free event (90 miles away), parking is easy on Wofford’s good-looking campus, there are a couple food trucks (and free sun block dispenser from the Cancer Society) in parking lot, but massive heat aside,  I wanted to see him spin somebody around and feed them a stiff arm as he departed, y’know? Asking knowledgeable fan next to me about Newton throwing some touch passes yet, he still hadn’t seen any, so that part of Turner’s offense is still a mystery to me too. Good to have real opportunity to discuss physicality of various players with someone who understands ‘horseflesh’ example, even if we were sweating just standing in that heat.
  • Cameron Artis-Payne looked a bit small, as did Anderson at 5’8”, but I can understand he surprises people when he pops through the line and initiates contact. Run CMC can have same effect, so no more nonsense about calling him a receiver and can’t run between the tackles. They gave Elijah Hood a chance to score from the one and he did, also had several other carries later in abbreviated drills. Idea of McCaffrey getting 25 touches a game, that’s a load- start counting Sept. 9th.
  • Donte Jackson is going to be an aggressive and fun to watch D-back. Sticking close is his MO, and he has make-up speed if he bites on a short route and receiver does a Go. That didn’t happen in practice, nice to know it’s there though, because QBs are going to put heat on rookie corners early.  James Bradberry is quietly the best cover guy Panthers have, and it sure seems like having Gauden working at safety regularly is a good thing. Cockerell injury is something that happens with physical collisions people, it’s a next guy up situation, not end of world for secondary with couple new parts.
  • Ask Byrd about getting an opportunity, he’s been getting plenty of reps this year after two sessions on IR last year. Every comment from coaches is positive, and the Carolina Panthers have fixed any notion about receivers who couldn’t get away from defenders/hurt them with big plays with he, Wright, and possibly Samuel, who comes across as almost TOO fast when working inside. Once he makes a move, both Byrd and Samuel eat space up quick. As a situational guy, Samuel would be a bee-yotch to cover as 4th receiver.
  • Pepp didn’t practice Monday, and Kalil took a semi-vet day off because of the heat, but Pep is off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, and that’s good enough for everyone who counts. Dontarius Poe is clearly a BIG person—fans will *know* he’s filled a hole when run stuffing is called for. Kawaan and Addison only need to keep doing what they’ve gained recognition for to become a defense that locks some people down. They’ve been top five in sacks for many years, there’s no softies out there. Defense picked off the backup QBs four times in one session (Go Shaq!) and Coach Washington wants constant pressure, with emphasis on scoring with turnovers.
  • When DJ Moore made catches near the sidelines, he almost always managed to turn upfield too. No circus catches or going up in a crowd, but everyone knew #12 guy caught whatever was thrown near him. Olsen caught several after getting (of course) wide open and the onlookers just smiled, and while absolutely every part of what Ian Thomas is doing at TE is good, Bug Howard caught several balls, and he is a very big target.
  • It’s difficult to ascertain the state of offensive line play, although Thursday’s game in Buffalo should provide plenty to watch and learn about progress so far. Mahon’s name comes up, those ‘other names’ who often aren’t well known quantities will earn their opportunities for the next week or so in the literal heat crucible here before Panthers move practice up to Charlotte.