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Camp observations: Early signs on Keith Kirkwood positive

Keith Kirkwood

SPARTANBURG — The early signs on wide receiver Keith Kirkwood's condition are positive, after the wide receiver was taken off the field on a stretcher following a violent collision.

Kirkwood was hit from behind by safety J.T. Ibe, who was immediately thrown off the field and then waived moments after practice.

The athletic training and medical staff worked quickly to stabilize Kirkwood, who was placed on a backboard and taken to a nearby ambulance.

Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said the indications he had shortly after practice were positive, and that Kirkwood had movement in his extremities and no pain in his neck area.

"We'll wait to see after he's looked at exactly what it is; that was the early signs," Rhule said.

Kirkwood played in one game last year because of multiple collarbone injuries. He played for Rhule at Temple.

"I don't want anyone to get hurt," Rhule said. "Anytime a player gets hurt it bothers me, whether it's something like that or a guy pulls his hamstring. I just recognize how much work these guys put in and how important this time is for them. Everybody, whether it's a guy like Keith I coached in college or a guy that just got here a week ago.

"As a man, as a person I don't like seeing anyone laying there in pain or hurting or just missing reps or battling through it. I can't stand those things. But injuries do happen in football. But it's important to me that when our players do get banged up, . . . they know their value to me and us is not just what they do on the field. We care about who they are."

Beyond the post-practice press conference, there was no further update on Kirkwood's condition.

— When Kirkwood hit the ground, the practice went immediately still, and there was a 12-minute break before they resumed.

Rhule went to a number of players to ask the appropriate next steps, and while they were clearly shaken by what they saw, they pressed on.

"Yeah, he came to a few of us, asked what the mood was like, if we wanted to keep practicing," quarterback Sam Darnold said. "It was kind of a weird mood for sure, but I think the right decision was to give us a couple of minutes, we had a little break there, and move on and keep practicing.

"It is (weird), for the first play or two, and then you get rolling. The interesting things about football is it's part of the game, unfortunately. During a game, hopefully this never happens, but if someone goes down like that you've got to keep playing. That's just part of it, and I thought our team did a good job of taking a rest and getting a breather for a minute, and then getting back on the field and competing."

Sam Darnold

— With Ibe immediately waived, the Panthers made a pretty clear statement about the situation.

Before the transaction was submitted, Rhule said beyond anything else, he wanted to make sure players kept each other safe.

"I'll probably talk about this once and move on," Rhule said when asked about the hit. "It's completely unacceptable to do something like that. There's bang-bang plays that happen, and guys will hit the ground, but you can't tee off on somebody. It's not what we'll do. It's undisciplined by us, so we can't have it.

— Kirkwood wasn't the only player taken off the field Tuesday.

Running back Darius Clark was carted off the field after talking with the medical staff, though there was no update on his condition.

— The Kirkwood situation overshadowed the team's first practice in pads of camp.

Rhule said he thought the work prior to and after was good, though it was hard to draw too many conclusions from the early work.

— Linebacker Shaq Thompson and cornerback A.J. Bouye were wearing red jerseys Tuesday morning, but they were on the field.

View photos from Tuesday's training camp practice at Wofford.

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