SPARTANBURG — Thursday wasn't the first time Daviyon Nixon's stolen the show in training camp.
And it wasn't his first highlight interception, either.
The rookie defensive tackle had a pair of picks in the final joint practice with the Ravens Thursday, putting a bow on what has been an eye-opening month of work for the fifth-round pick from Iowa.
"Being able to make plays against a team like that, it just shows me that I have so much to give to this team," Nixon said.
To this point, Nixon has stood out mostly for his buoyant personality, and his singing voice. He brought his teammates to their feet during a team meeting, when he belted out Mario's "Let Me Love You."
"Daviyon is a big personality," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said. "You should hear him sing; he's an amazing singer."
He's also not bad at football.
The attention he was getting after practice Thursday was natural, considering the plays he made. He intercepted his first pass after outside linebacker Frankie Luvu tipped a screen pass in the air. The second came when he dropped back into coverage, something big men don't often do. For the record, the Panthers all-time record for interceptions by a defensive tackle is two, by Brentson Buckner.
(Also, Panthers fans of a certain vintage may remember Israel Raybon's 1997 interception against the Rams, for an example of what it looks like when a 300-plus-pounder finds himself in space, and not necessarily by design.)
Defensive coordinator Phil Snow said that by having athletic defensive tackles, they can occasionally drop them into coverage, to disguise what they're doing. And Nixon has shown the ability to do that in the past, with a 71-yard interception return against Penn State.
"We'll never hear the end of him now," Snow said with a grin. "When we drafted him, we knew we were going to get a big athletic guy. He's got really long arms. We're excited about him. He's getting better every day. He's fun to coach. I think he's got a bright future here."
Of course, playing defensive back isn't in his future, so they want to make sure he's doing the things within his normal job description. Rhule was watching the offense, but he heard the rumors about Nixon making plays, and knew what he wanted to talk to him about afterward.
"I looked over and I saw him running down the field and they said 'Coach he had two,' and I said, 'Oh my goodness,'" Rhule said with a laugh. "As he walked off the field, I said 'Hey Daviyon, no one cares,' and he said, 'Coach, no one cares until I get my hands right and my first step right.'
"He's going to be a really good player. He was a good player at iowa, really good personality. Just rookies though. All the rookies, they made some plays, everyone salutes them, we all want to talk to them, and then they have to come back the next day and be great the next day. My thing is consistency is the truest measure of success."
Nixon knows that, and has talked all camp about his need to be more consistent (and to adhere to the societal norms of the defensive line room).
But as he continued to work and learn, the moments became more frequent.
"I feel a lot more comfortable," he said. "I feel like everything that my coaches preach to me on a daily basis, that I'm getting better and better at, every detail they tell me, so I feel a lot more comfortable."
And as he's developing, the Panthers are showing signs of collecting parts for an aggressive defense as well. His picks were part of a five-interception day against the Ravens.
"It doesn't matter what day it is honestly," Nixon said. "We go out there every single day, and our emphasis is turnovers. We try to get takeaways, as many as we can.
"We emphasize that every single day when we come to practice. Today was just another special day for us. We were going out there making plays and jumping around and being ourselves, and not letting nobody else come into our place and having fun; we're having fun ourselves. That's what makes this team special."