SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The Carolina Panthers relocated to a different state Saturday, but their fans remained in the same state of pandemonium.
Unfortunately, the swarm of onlookers included one of their own.
Rookie running back Tyler Gaffney watched the first training camp practice from the sideline at Wofford College with the aid of crutches, necessitated by a season-ending knee injury suffered at Fan Fest in Charlotte on Friday night.
"It happened on a running play – my only running play," explained Gaffney, who tore his left lateral meniscus on a non-contact play. "It just felt loose. It hurt a little bit, but nothing that bad. I've hurt worse. I wasn't too concerned."
The concern obviously grew when an MRI revealed the extent of the damage. With the Panthers' sixth-round draft choice facing surgery and a season on injured reserve – and with running back Jonathan Stewart nursing a hamstring injury – head coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers would move to add a running back to the 90-man roster.
"We're a little bit thin, but we'll find somebody to come in and replace him and have another body come in to compete for a position on this football team," Rivera said. "It's disappointing because the young man is a solid football player that has a history of being a workhorse.
"We're disappointed for him. We're disappointed for us."
Gaffney enjoyed himself as much as he could under the circumstances along with more than 17,000 fans at Gibbs Stadium. They were treated to some thrills from the start when quarterback Cam Newton hooked up with wide receiver Kealoha Pilares for a long score. Pilares missed the second half of the 2012 season with a shoulder injury and all of 2013 with a knee injury.
"Having something like that happen early in practice gave me a little more confidence. It was a good play," said Pilares, a leading candidate for kickoff return duties. "The defensive backs were squatting a little bit, expecting the run, and I just ran right past them."
Pilares said Newton challenged the offense to be better when the Panthers hit the practice fields at Wofford on Sunday at 3:10 p.m. Newton also showed leadership with the way he challenged himself in his climb back from offseason ankle surgery.
"There were a couple of plays that (offensive coordinator) Mike Shula wanted to take him out for, but he wanted to stay in because he wanted to test it," Rivera said. "We let him test it, and he seemed to handle it pretty well.
"He's feeling better and better every day. This is all part of his rehab. He's going to be sore, but that will strengthen the ankle. That's the only way to do it."
Newton should soon have another option on offense when the Panthers replace Gaffney, and even with Gaffney still officially on the roster, they have a spot to fill. Carolina started the day with 89 players on the roster and ended with the same total after signing defensive tackle Micanor Regis and waiving defensive back De'Quan Menzie. Regis played collegiately at Miami (Fla.) and spent his rookie season in 2012 on the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad but was waived prior to last season.
Regis practiced Saturday, helping the Panthers kick off their two-and-a-half week stay in Spartanburg in spirited fashion.
"I was pretty happy with it. I thought we had good energy out there, and the tempo was what we were looking for," Rivera said. "There were a few too many mistakes. We had some opportunities on the offensive side that we didn't take advantage of, and defensively we gave up some plays we shouldn't have."
"Defensively, we made a few more plays than on offense. That's great and disappointing at the same time. You're looking for that perfect balance."