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Four Takeaways From Wednesday's Practice

Posted Jan 6, 2016

First-teamers ramp up competition at practice; injured players Stewart, Ginn, Whittaker continue to make strides.

1. PANTHERS GET PHYSICAL: The Carolina Panthers have the advantage of kicking up their feet rather than kicking off their postseason this weekend, but they're being careful to not rest on their laurels.

Practice Wednesday concluded with the first-teamers on offense and defense going against each other, the first time that's happened in about two months.

"Our last three periods were us against us. That gave us a chance to compete," head coach Ron Rivera said. "That was a huge positive. It got spirited there, and it was fun. They had good energy and competed well. Both units looked good."

Two years ago, the Panthers also had a bye before losing their playoff opener, so Rivera has changed up the schedule this time around to more mirror a game week – with the addition of some physicality.

"We love playing football and competing against each other," cornerback Robert McClain said. "It's a very competitive sport, a very physical sport, and you can't afford to lose your competitive edge. Going out there and winning our battles and doing our job is important."

2. HEALING PROCESS CONTINUES: Running back Jonathan Stewart and wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr., didn't take part in the scrimmage periods in helmets and shells, but they did get in good work on the side.

Stewart (foot) missed the last three games of the regular season, and Ginn (knee) missed the last one.

"It was nice to see a lot of those guys that missed last week or the last couple of weeks back on the field," Rivera said.

Running back Fozzy Whittaker, who missed the last game with a high ankle sprain, didn't make an appearance but did make progress.

"He was supposed to get the boot off today, so he should be moving around pretty good," Rivera said.
3. HORTON HEARS HIS PHONE RING: A familiar face did return to practice. Defensive end Wes Horton, who spent most of the last three seasons on the roster, was signed to the practice squad with an eye on both this season and next.

"If something happens, he's there. If not, we'll have him for next season," Rivera said. "He can play any of the positions for us along the defensive line. We have a lot of confidence in him."

Horton has six sacks in 34 career games with the Panthers, having originally made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2013. He replaces cornerback Lou Young, who was elevated from the practice squad Tuesday.

4. CORNERBACK/COACH: Young replaced Charles Tillman, who saw his 13th NFL season end short of the playoffs with a torn ACL suffered in the regular season finale.

But Rivera reiterated that Tillman will have as big a role as is possible for a player on injured reserve.

"That's kind of what he's done (already), has kind of put himself in that role," Rivera said when asked if Tillman would act almost as an additional assistant coach. "The nice thing about Charles too is that he's been to a Super Bowl and understands what it takes. He's been around, has been in the meetings and has done things that you would hope an old vet would do."