SPARTANBURG, SC — The Carolina Panthers opened their 2012 training camp Saturday night at Wofford College with excitement, intensity and some interesting notes.
Second-year head coach Ron Rivera made no bones about rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly after practice, saying the former Boston College Eagle is much further advanced than almost any first-year player he’s ever seen at the position.
Kuechly is starting at outside linebacker, but played in the middle with second team during the workout, calling plays sent in from the sideline. He averaged 16 tackles a game playing inside for BC last season.
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Here are some other observations from the Panthers’ first practice:
*16th-year placekicker Olindo Mare missed a 44-yard field goal attempt fairy early in practice resulting in a chorus of boos and cat calls from many of the 13,000 fans in attendance. Mare’s kick clanked off the right upright. Several minutes later, however, he connected two from 50 yards that had plenty of room to spare. No boo birds on those boots.
*Cam Newton found veteran Steve Smith for a beautiful 37-yard touchdown pass that drew quite an ovation from the crowd. Smith beat rookie cornerback Josh Norman from Coastal Carolina on the play.
*Kuechly had one of four interceptions on the night. He picked off veteran backup Derek Anderson and quickly had a head of steam moving upfield.
*One of the other picks by the defense came when second-year defensive tackle Sione Fua (6-foot-1, 310 pounds) snagged an errant toss by Newton at the line of scrimmage and began rumbling forward. As he did that, many of his teammates, at least the ones that weren’t laughing too hard, hollered at him, saying stuff like, “Damn, big man, run.”
*Rookie receiver and kick returner Joe Adams has seemingly limitless potential as a return man, but he also came to camp carrying a bit of a reputation for his tendency to fumble the football when in college at Arkansas. While he made numerous nifty moves on the night, Adams did drop one punt.
*Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson rode around in a golf cart, talking to fans and the media and posing for photos.
*Newton pleased some fans when, after breaking off a long run up the left sideline late in the workout, he stopped, looked the stands and then tossed the ball into the crowd. Later after practice, sections of fans chanted his name, and the Rookie of the Year last season eventually made it to each section.
*Former Davidson star and current Golden State Warrior Stephen Curry and his brother Seth, who plays for Duke, were on the sidelines for the entire practice. They even stopped to pose for a few pictures. When asked how he was doing, Seth said, “Good, good.”