Camp concludes, but work does not

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – When running back Jonathan Stewart broke practice – and in effect ended training camp – by leading "One, two, three, Panther pride!" at Gibbs Stadium on Wednesday at 10:55 a.m., the players mostly maintained their decorum.

There were, however, more smiles than usual – wide smiles at that.

"Twenty-six practices ago, you dreamed about this moment," head coach John Fox told the team before turning it over to Stewart. "It's been a very, very, very good, tough, hard camp."

Fox described the three-week camp as productive and physical, saying he enjoyed and will benefit from learning a lot about a multitude of young players he previously knew little about.

Left tackle Jordan Gross, who's been a part of Panthers camps nearly as long as Fox, said his eighth was enough – and then some.

"Since we've moved to the new schedule that we've had the last four or five years, this is the hardest camp we've had," Gross said. "There's been a lot of hitting and a lot of long team periods.

"The coaches want to make sure we know what we're doing and want to see who's tough and who isn't out there. We've definitely gotten tested that way."

Gross believes the Panthers passed the test.

"Overall, I like where we're at," Gross said, pointing out that the Panthers avoided any major injuries. "We've got a lot of young guys who have really surprised me and stepped up and did well."

The Panthers fought torrential rain one day and borderline unbearable heat the next day, all while enduring two practices every other day. Tight end Jeff King said the experience should especially help when freezing temperatures are in the forecast – when the dog-sled days of December and January arrive on the grueling NFL calendar.

"I think we have had a good, tough camp and, hopefully, we can carry that over," King said. "The thing is we need to play well later in the season, come December, and that comes from building in Spartanburg, building mental toughness."

That isn't the only thing the Panthers built at Wofford.

With an inordinate number of young players on the roster, the Panthers needed to build the work habits of the youngsters up to NFL standards while also building their understanding of schemes.

Just as importantly, they needed to build relationships with so many fresh faces in camp.

"It does force you to build a little camaraderie with the guys," King said. "If you were at Bank of America Stadium and you had two or three hours (off), you could maybe sneak home and get a nap. But here, just by location, you hang out with the guys and build a little chemistry away from the field."

Added quarterback Matt Moore: "As far as team bonding has gone, it's been an awesome camp."

While the Panthers were understandably relieved to leave dorm life behind for their homes, the change in location doesn't mean it's time for a vacation.

Thursday, the training room will open in Charlotte before sunrise, meetings will follow soon after, and the Panthers will be right back on the practice fields by mid-morning.

"We are still in learning mode," Moore said, "so other than location, the attitude and preparation will be the same."

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