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Camp Observations: Wrapping up the Wofford days


SPARTANBURG, S.C. — There was only one appropriate way to end training camp at Wofford College.

With PJ Walker throwing a touchdown pass to center-turned-tight end Sam Tecklenburg, of course.

The Panthers wrapped up the South Carolina portion of their preseason preparation with a short practice Wednesday morning, which was conducted mostly with the third-string players.

There were a few stray regulars — including their last two first-round picks, Jaycee Horn and Ikem Ekwonu — but it was largely young depth players getting more of a chance to stand out. There were a total of 38 players dressed for practice, including defensive end Marquis Haynes Sr., who put on pads to do his individual work.

They had to adjust a bit when tight end Josh Babicz left with an arm injury, leaving Jared Scott as the only tight end participating. That's when Tecklenburg and Wyatt Miller pinched in at tight end so they could get through the hour-long practice.

And when Tecklenburg scored, the celebration was on, even if offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo wasn't working to create a package of options for his newest playmaker.

"I don't know about that, we'll see," Tecklenburg said with a laugh. "Getting back to my tight end days, it was fun."

But while the mood was light Wednesday, the work they accomplished here was real.

Head coach Matt Rhule said he thought the Panthers were in a better position now than three weeks ago, having had the chance to come to Wofford and grow closer as a team.

"I think getting away is wonderful," Rhule said. "In a world where most of our guys have other things going on in their lives, they have families and all those things, having the opportunity to get away and bond, spend time together, . . .

"It's great when phones go down, and decks of cards come out. It's great when phones go down and ping pong paddles come out. The old school things. . . . We hung out last night, I've got Shaq Thompson sitting next to Johnny Hekker. Those things are great for teams, and they only happen, to me, when you get away a little bit."

Rhule also liked the work on the field, and he thinks they're in a better place now.

"I'm really pleased with the team," Rhule said. "I believe a team is ready to win when it's ready to win. This team, I feel like we're closer to being ready to win; guys know what to expect. So I've enjoyed my time here."

— Of course, it wouldn't be a day of training camp without questions about the quarterback competition.

Rhule said that both Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold would play in Saturday's preseason opener against Washington but that he hadn't discussed the rotation or number of reps with either of them, so he wasn't ready to make an announcement.

— The Babicz injury that forced them to adjust on the fly was the latest in a string of injuries and absences at the position.

Ian Thomas will miss a week or two after taking a hard shot to the ribs Tuesday. Colin Thompson will miss some time with a calf injury suffered earlier this week. Coupled with Stephen Sullivan (personal absence) being excused, they'll be limited at the position for the next few days.

— In other injury news, Rhule said wide receiver C.J. Saunders suffered a quad strain and would miss three or four weeks.

That's an unfortunate break for a wideout who has had a strong offseason and early part of camp. Saunders has worked with the ones as the slot receiver and has a knack for getting open and catching things once he's there.

The receiver competition will be tight, as eight or nine guys are fighting for five or six jobs.

Defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, who was carted off yesterday with a knee injury, will likely miss an extended amount of time.

Offensive lineman Dennis Daley (personal) was also absent again Wednesday.

— As they wrapped up this portion of the preseason before heading home for Thursday night's Fan Fest, Rhule was asked who he thought his most valuable player of the camp was.

While he appreciated Brian Burns' work as "entertainment director" during camp, he singled out another veteran lineman who he saw make great strides this summer — right tackle Taylor Moton.

"That's really, really hard; I think a lot of guys have done a good job," Rhule said. "I'm going to go ahead and say T-Mo. Moton has taken the next step to becoming the dominant player he's capable of, and his leadership is being felt. He's the guy who addresses the team about things like making sure we keep this area clean. His public speaking has soared through the roof from where it started to where it is now."

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