SPARTANBURG, SC — The Carolina Panthers moved their second practice of the season over to the practice fields at Wofford College, but still drew more than 3,000 spectators.
The fans sat on a long hill to one side of the main field the team used to run its various drills. Most of what the Panthers ran surrounded the passing game. They also worked on field goals and kickoff receiving and coverage.
The team remained in helmets and shoulder pads, just like in the first practice, though the linemen had quite a bit of contact in a pass-rush, pass-blocking drill late in the workout. Here are some observations from the Panthers’ second practice of the season:
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• Quarterback Cam Newton, last year’s NFL Rookie of the Year, was high on a lot of his passes through much of the practice, particularly early. But when he finally threw a strike it caromed off the hands of star veteran receiver Steve Smith’s hands and snared by Sherrod Martin. Newton was later picked by James Anderson about midway through the practice. To be fair, he also threw plenty of bullet strikes.
• When the team broke into position groups for the first time, linebacker coach Warren Belin chose an interesting piece of equipment to substitute as a standard five-man offensive line: Trash cans. Nice, new, spotless trash cans courtesy of Rubbermaid were placed where the center, two guards and two tackles normally would line up. The segment was to help the players recognize lanes depending on what defense they were in and how offensive skill players lined up and moved before the snap.
• Any time Steve Smith touches the ball he gets a louder roar than any of the other pass catchers. On one, basic 7-yard route in which he caught the ball and tuned up field, one happy fan hollered, “Oh yeah, oh yeah.”
• Center Ryan Kalil, who made national headlines last week after taking out a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer predicting a Super Bowl appearance by the Panthers, walked to the sideline late in the practice, took his helmet off and shook off some sweat. As the drops fell off, a fan yelled, “Kalil, Super Bowl. Make it happen!”
• Some pundits believe 3rd-year receiver Brandon LaFell will break out and serve as the complement to Smith the team badly needs. He certainly put on a good show Sunday evening. LaFell made a great catch on a Newton pass in the middle of the field, and then burned safety Haruki Nakamura, who played the last four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and is challenging Martin for a starting spot. The crowd liked that play a lot.
• Linebacker James Anderson, who led the team in tackles last season, spent a few minutes late in practice walking slowly while rubbing the back of his left thigh saying, “Ooh, hamstring.”
• Rookie offensive guard Amini Silatolu worked with the first team much of the evening. While he started a bit too soon a few times, he did well in the pass blocking drills. He has a very strong base, which helped him Sunday.
• Veteran defensive end Charles Johnson may one day want to get into coaching because he spent about two solid minutes teaching second-year end Thomas Keiser about using his hands when rushing the passer. Keiser nearly got to the QB on his next turn.
• Wide receiver David Gettis missed much of practice and walked around with a large ice pack wrapped on his left knee.
• About 3,000 fans showed up, many calling out to Newton every time he got near them. And like he did in the first night, Newton tossed a ball into the crowd, drawing appreciation from the fans.