Camp observations: Panthers raise the intensity level

Christian McCaffrey

WESTFIELD, Ind. — If Panthers head coach Matt Rhule didn't like the energy his team played with Thursday, they more than made up for it Friday.

You get the sense the Panthers got the message after the slow start to their joint workouts with the Colts, with the way bodies (and a few hands) were being thrown around.

Friday's practice featured many scraps and skirmishes, the kind of intensity that bordered on out of control but never quite got to that point.

At one point, the Panthers' offensive line bowed up and rushed a few Colts defenders after Christian McCaffrey went down hard at the end of a running play.

Almost simultaneously, the defense was fighting with the Colts, after several Panthers defenders, including Shaq Thompson and Jeremy Chinn, were responding in kind to the physical style the Colts played with Thursday.

"Chaos," defensive end Brian Burns replied when asked to sum up the day. "Chaos. That's about it. That's all I can say. . . . I like the edge everybody was bringing. It gets me pumped up. Things got a little edgy, a little out of hand, but it's football.

That happened Thursday, and Rhule wasn't pleased with the effort. He was in a much better mood after Friday's work.

"Yesterday, the defense played to the whistle, today we said let's play through the whistle more," Rhule said. "Offensively, I think it's good for our guys. You hate when McCaffrey, a guy comes over and clubs him, and he falls to the ground. But at the end of the day, it's good contact for him. It's a chance to protect the football.

"That's why we came here, to be against a good defense."

There were a few moments when it nearly reached the boiling point (and it was much hotter Friday after an overcast and breezy Thursday workout). But it never quite went over the edge, though there were plenty of hard shots.

"You get a bunch of dudes like this out here; there's going to be a little pushing," Rhule said. "You don't want it to escalate. A couple of guys talked a little trash, but you saw them; at the end of practice, they were hugging each other. It's part of what it is, as long as it doesn't escalate to the point of guys getting hurt or ruining practice."

— After expressing his displeasure with the receivers Thursday, Rhule said he felt compelled to circle back and say the offense as a whole wasn't bad. He still had some problems but said: "A lot of good things football-wise, but not the energy I wanted offensively."

He then noted that the offense had "much better energy" Friday.

— The Panthers offensive line rising to the defense of McCaffrey was a welcome sight for them, but the All-Pro running back wasn't hesitant to advocate for himself either.

While there was contact, it wasn't a live-tackling practice. That meant officials were there to blow the whistle on first contact.

"It's hard," Rhule said. "You hear McCaffrey, he's yelling, the officials spot it where you're first touched, and he's like 'They never would have tackled me.'

"That's both sides. The run game in a thud practice never looks great, but we did some good things."

— Panthers owner David Tepper was on hand, and spent time on the sidelines talking with retired wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.

Smith's clearly into his role as the Panthers TV Network's preseason analyst, and during one-on-ones, he went over to DJ Moore after a rep and the two were going over the finer points of route running.

As you might imagine, Smith has thoughts.

Steve Smith Sr., David Tepper

— Center Matt Paradis was dressed for practice but didn't do work, and Rhule said he was encouraged by what he saw from Sam Tecklenburg running at center with the first line.

Left tackle Cameron Erving did more Friday, which limited the amount of time Taylor Moton spent on the left side.

— The Panthers showed some speed in special teams work, with running back Chuba Hubbard taking a kickoff return to the end zone, and wide receiver David Moore nearly going the distance on the next play.

While starters won't play in Sunday's preseason opener, Rhule said he would let the special teams regulars work, to see how they stack up.

— Did we mention it was a hard-hitting practice?

It appeared wide receiver DJ Moore got a shot in the mouth, and tight end Dan Arnold came to the sideline and threw his helmet down in frustration after taking another hard hit from the Colts.

It was that kind of day.

— Wideout Robbie Anderson got some attention from the athletic training staff, who took a look at his left knee. But he returned to team drills shortly afterward.

Running backs Reggie Bonnafon and Rodney Smith weren't able to finish practice either, though Rhule had no updates on their condition.

View photos from Friday's joint practice with the Colts at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind.

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