SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Special teams drills don’t get a lot of attention during training camp. That is, until offensive tackle Taylor Moton and defensive tackle Dontari Poe start returning punts.
During the last practice of camp, head coach Ron Rivera offered up a game. Punter Michael Palardy would launch punts, and chosen linemen would have to catch one of at most two tries. If successful, practice would be cut three periods short (not end at that very moment, as some were led to believe).
Moton was up first. The 6-foot-5, 325-pounder tracked the ball and took a couple steps back before hauling it in against his chest.
Teammates roared as Moton folded his arms and struck a pose.
“People just thought that of all the O-linemen I might be one of the best to catch the ball. I was like, ‘That’s fine.’ I wasn’t worried about it,” said Moton, known his hands when playing catch with the O-linemen but someone who had never before attempted to field a punt in his life.
Next up was the 6-foot-3, 346-pound Poe. The Pro Bowl defensive tackle made it look easy, and the celebration ensued.
“I knew he was going to catch it. He’s an athlete,” defensive tackle Kyle Love said. “This is a man that has scored a touchdown in the NFL running it, throwing it and catching it. That’s nothing for him.
“We got to put him back there in the game – for real. He’s an athlete.”
Rivera was asked about that very suggestion after practice.
“Don’t tell anybody,” he said. “It’s a secret.”