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Strickly Panthers: Black and blue battles

Posted Aug 11, 2011

SPARTANBURG, S.C. - After the defense blew up the offense's best-laid plans during a recent training camp practice, linebacker Omar Gaither simply couldn't help himself.

"Chud, that one don't work!" Gaither bellowed in the general direction of Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. "That don't work!"

A lot of ink gets spilled over the course of camp regarding competition for starting spots, but there's another area where competition plays a crucial role in the development of a team.

When the offense and defense line up against each other during team periods, they play for keeps.

"We've got to make practice like a game. In fact, we need to make practice tougher than a game, because that way when we get in a game, it will be easier," Gaither said. "The more we compete in practice, the better we're going to be on offense and the better we're going to be on defense.

"I'm happy when the defense gets an interception, but at the same time I go back and get on the offense because we're all on the same team at the end of the day. It's good to compete, but we've got to make each other better."

Saturday night's preseason opener against the New York Giants will bring a welcomed opportunity for the Panthers to go hard against guys who don't share a locker room with them. It's a rare opportunity, however, with the large majority of prep time in the preseason featuring teammate versus teammate.

Occasionally, that "familiarity" sparks a skirmish, the type of thing that would draw a flag on game day but that draws out intensity in camp that should benefit the team come game day.

"You get kind of sick of blocking the same people all the time," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "Individual battles sometimes get heated – and group on group – but that's good.

"The whole point of camp is to get ready for games, and when you get in games, it's heated. You're trying to force your will on the other team, and that's kind of what camp is all about."

Most of the competition is good-natured, and sometimes it extends beyond practice – from a Nerf basketball tournament in the locker room to a contest between the running backs and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula to see who can throw a pass that hits the crossbar from the 20-yard line.

"You've got to have fun," Gaither said. "Let's be honest: We all love to play football, but these practices are long and they're grueling. If you're not having fun and everybody starts to get bored, then nobody wants to practice. The more fun practice is, the harder you practice."

Gaither, a Charlotte native who signed as an unrestricted free agent after five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, is notorious for having fun at the expense of his teammates.

"I've been known to have a word or two with the other side," Gaither said. "It's good, clean stuff - I don't talk about anybody's mama - but if I'm not talking on the field, somebody needs to come get me because something's wrong."

The competitive jabs sometimes crop up in the film room, according to defensive tackle Corvey Irvin, when a replay from practice in which one player gets the better of another can result in razzing.

"But it's all love," Irvin said. "We're competitors, and it's competitive out there. It's going to be aggressive. There's a little rivalry there, but at the end of the day we still love each other and will protect each other."


EDWARDS TO IR; ROBINSON ADDED: The Panthers' fear for Ron Edwards came true Thursday, when the team placed the impact defensive tackle on injured reserve.

With the open roster spot, Carolina signed defensive tackle DelJuan Robinson.

Edwards, a veteran of 10 NFL seasons who played in every game for the Kansas City Chiefs the last five seasons, tore a triceps muscle during his first practice as a Panther on Aug. 4. He was expected to be a key cog in Carolina's young defensive interior.

The season-long loss of Edwards will result in an opportunity for Robinson, who signed with the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent from Mississippi State in 2007.

"I really like him," head coach Ron Rivera said of Robinson. "He's a big, physical guy with good quickness and speed."

Robinson played in all 16 games for the Texans in 2008 – with three starts – recording 28 tackles, and played in 11 games in 2009 with four tackles. He did not play in 2010 after Houston waived him in the final roster cutdown.


FRIDAY'S SCHEDULE: Rather than practicing in the evening as they most often have, the Panthers will hit the practice field at 2:45 p.m. The earlier time is part of preparation for Saturday night's preseason opener against the New York Giants at Bank of America Stadium.