CHARLOTTE – The Panthers practiced for 90 minutes Wednesday, followed by position and team meetings and other organized preparations for Sunday's game against the Cardinals.
But those team-mandated training sessions aren't the only moments where players improve.
Due to the practice limitations, coaches are allowed to require only so many repetitions per day for each player, but there are no restrictions on players taking the initiative on their own.
For some, like practice squad wide receiver Damiere Byrd, that means taking time after every training session fielding kicks and catching passes. Another young player that puts in similar overtime is second-year tackle Daryl Williams.
"Daryl Williams has done a great job for us," head coach Ron Rivera said. "I think a lot of it has to do with the extra work he's put into it along with Coach Ray Brown and the rest of the other guys. That's one of the beautiful things about having the coaches that we have. Coach Brown, with his experience, he gets an awful lot of opportunities to work with our young guys."
That post-practice determination is not limited to just young players. Rivera notices it even from his most experienced players, who often don't even wait for the final horn of practice to learn more.
"When you watch the veteran guys, or at least our veteran guys when they practice," Rivera said of his offensive line, "they're always doing something extra, whether it's before practice starts, after practice or while practice is happening. If the defense is up, the offensive guys are over there with Coach (John) Matsko to find ways to create more opportunities to get a couple extra mental reps, or sometimes physical reps."
Extra hours can occur away from the gridiron too. Running backs Mike Tolbert and Fozzy Whittaker have been making a point to pump extra iron before practices to build more muscle and help their quarterback when in pass protection.
"I try to make sure that I'm stout," Whittaker said Monday on the Panther Talk radio show. "I started working out in the mornings with Tolbert. Whenever we have lifts – most of the time we lift after practice, but I'll come in in the morning and lift with Tolbert to help increase my strength, and by doing that this year I've seen big differences and it's helped me pick up (line)backers."
And even though the Panthers had a week off, those efforts did not take a similar bye week-hiatus. Quarterback Cam Newton has followed the same schedule for his "off" week every year of his professional career.
"You do a self-evaluation, try to get somewhere to refresh and come back more motivated than you left," Newton said. "It gave me time, and everybody time, to think about and reevaluate how we can come back stronger and better. It's not like we haven't been playing great football. We just haven't been playing complete football. It gives us time to open our eyes up and fix our mistakes."
Rivera and his coaching staff were also putting in similar hours in anticipation of Arizona, compiling clips of the Cardinals' best plays to educate their players on the opposition's tendencies.
"I'm pretty pleased that when you do have the option to self-scout on a bye week, you also have an option to prepare for your next opponent ahead of time, so we are ahead of schedule," Rivera said. "Going into this game, the proof will be in the pudding, so I'm excited to see us on the field again.
"I think we can put things together. I do expect us to come out and play well Sunday."
View photos of the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game against Arizona.