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Fan Fest observations: A celebration of football

Brian Burns

CHARLOTTE — Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said it was good to get back in front of fans again, and good to be back in Bank of America Stadium.

But it was hard to make too many football judgements, since it wasn't like a normal practice during training camp.

Fan Fest presented a looser atmosphere for a team after a week of intense practices, with no pads, no contact, defensive end Brian Burns showing off his new dance moves, players interacting with fans at a distance, and the usual post-game fireworks.

Also, for the second time this week, Rhule realized that being in front of more than 25,000 fans made it the biggest crowd he had been in front of since taking this job (topping the 6,171 last Saturday at Gibbs Stadium).

"The message I shared with for our team, it's great to practice in front of our families, great to practice with friends, but there will also be a bunch of little kids out there that maybe this is the only time they get to see you play live," he said. "So thank you to the fans who came and watched at home. As a pro athlete and a pro coach it is the fans that pay your salary, they buy your merchandise, they support you through thick and thin.

"So to go out there tonight, you guys know me, Burns dancing, that's not normally my way of practicing, but it was a fun night."

— The Panthers practiced on their new FieldTurf for the first time since they installed it this summer, but it's not the first action on the surface.

As part of the NFL's Play Football Month initiative and the team's support of local football, the Panthers brought three high school teams to Bank of America Stadium to practice.

Nation Ford High practiced here Tuesday, and Hickory Ridge and West Meck worked out here Wednesday. The teams were given autographed footballs to present to the offensive and defensive practice players of the day, and they also got tickets to the Aug. 21 preseason game against the Ravens.

— That said, the Panthers were easing into the new surface.

Running back Christian McCaffrey told our Kristen Balboni during the practice that he likes what he's seen of the surface so far, but was glad they were getting used to it slowly.

Friday's practice was unpadded and without much contact. A lot of fast guys do like a fast track, and once he gets used to it, McCaffrey seemed open to the change.

"It was good, I liked it," McCaffrey said afterward. "It was very new so a lot of us were cautious out there, but I liked it."

Safety Jeremy Chinn said he liked it as well, after playing on a similar field in college. Chinn said "it feels like a fast surface."

— Wide receiver Robby Anderson was excused from Friday's practice because of a family situation.

The Panthers were still without cornerback A.J. Bouye, linebacker Denzel Perryman, defensive end Austin Larkin, and wide receiver Keith Kirkwood were still out.

Linebacker Shaq Thompson and running back Darius Clark were wearing the green jerseys of limited players. Safety Juston Burris was given a veteran's day off, and watched practice wearing a shirsey and a bucket hat.

Tight end Stephen Sullivan remains on the reserve/COVID-19 list, but he was on the sidelines Friday night, which suggest he's closer to a return.

See photos from Fan Fest practice, presented by Daimler Trucks North America, at Bank of America Stadium on Friday night.

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