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Joint Practice Observations: Pushing through a heated practice

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It wouldn't be a joint practice in the middle of August without a fight, so the Panthers and Patriots obliged. And though it was heated, it wasn't that hot here, so they got things back under control and continued to work.

It might not have been to the degree of last summer's work against the Colts (when there was a scuffle on both fields often enough, it felt like you were watching tennis at times), but there was a degree of tension that boiled over a couple of times.

Both were on the field with the Panthers' first defense and the Patriots' first offense. After the first one, the Panthers sent safety Kenny Robinson to the locker room early, and the Patriots sent wide receivers Kristian Wilkerson and Kendrick Bourne to the showers.

A few plays later, there was another scuffle, and the Panthers sent defensive tackle Phil Hoskins in. There were some punches thrown along the fringes, but after that flurry, the practice continued without incident.

"What me and coach (Bill) Belichick talked about, if a fight happens, we'll throw those guys off and hopefully eliminate future fights," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said. "We came here not to fight; we came here to practice. It shows the maturity of a lot of other guys that it didn't escalate into a big thing. For us, it's a couple of younger guys. We're here to get better. We don't want anyone to get hurt. We wanted to stay off the ground and work today."

It appeared at a few moments that the Patriots' receivers objected to the Panthers' defensive backs punching at the ball and trying to rip it out. Rhule said they've emphasized that (as opposed to having big downfield collisions), and safety Jeremy Chinn said it was largely a function of seeing another team.

"I don't know if they took offense to it, but that's our DNA, so that's something we'll continue to do," Chinn said of trying to create turnovers. "It's not disrespect; it's just we're just trying to get better."

The Panthers might have been a little surprised by the tone of last year's first joint practice with the Colts, and came out far more intense the following day. Chinn said as their defense tries to improve on last year, they wanted to assert themselves.

"We wanted to come in here and show who we are, and kind of set a tone," he said. "We're just trying to compete like the next man."

But Chinn also said Rhule's message to the team about the extracurricular activities was clear.

"To not fight," he said with a grin.

— While you don't want to cross the line, the Panthers were clearly fired up on the defensive field, and are showing some more personality.

Linebacker Frankie Luvu is often the guy to get people motivated, and the response when he intercepted a Mac Jones pass was an enthusiastic one.

But that was the case throughout the day, as it got loud when Chinn and Keith Taylor Jr. broke up passes downfield or when Daviyon Nixon batted a pass at the line of scrimmage and nearly picked it, or when Brian Burns got around the corner for what would have been a sack.

— The Panthers continued to use both Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold with the first offense, but Mayfield got most of the work in a two-minute period in which they moved the ball (he had a couple of nice connections with tight end Tommy Tremble and running back Christian McCaffrey).

Rhule said it wasn't a declaration, but after Darnold got the last live two-minute period in their previous practice, he wanted to see Mayfield get a shot, after he led a long field goal drive in his only work Saturday against Washington.

"I think Baker's learning a lot of what we're doing," Rhule said. "Every day is a good day for him in terms of learning. Obviously got a couple of reps in the game, but this is invaluable. The amount of things we saw, we saw about seven different defenses. That's what they do, so it was good for us."

— One of the day's highlights came when Mayfield found wide receiver DJ Moore deep downfield, and Moore came back to make a contested catch.

His physicality stands out in situations like this, as he's strong enough to work his way into position to make plays on balls, even if they're not perfectly thrown.

Bradley Bozeman

— There were a few injuries they'll have to worry about, the most concerning involving center Bradley Bozeman. He went down after a team drill and was attended to by the team's athletic training staff, but then got to his feet and walked a few steps. He seemed OK at first, but then a cart came onto the field to give him a ride to get checked out.

Rhule didn't have an update on his condition immediately after practice, but the Panthers have more talent on the line than they've had in some time. In discussing the position at a different point in his press conference, Rhule said, "we have some depth right now; we'll hope Bozeman's not out too long."

Pat Elflein has worked as the first center for most of camp, and they have a few other options in the middle if Bozeman does miss time, including Cade Mays.

They also were without receiver Shi Smith for a portion of practice after he landed on a ball. Terrace Marshall Jr. was on a bit of a pitch count as he returns to full participation.

— Speaking of pitch counts, Rhule said cornerback Jaycee Horn was capped at around 25 snaps Tuesday as he continues to work back from some foot soreness at the beginning of camp. Horn's done progressively more and sometimes has to be pulled back out of drills he's not supposed to be in.

"He's pissed," Chinn said with a laugh when asked about Horn's restrictions. "I feel bad for the coach who has to tell him he has to come out."

— With Smith on the sidelines and C.J. Saunders out with a quad strain for another couple of weeks, the Panthers had undrafted rookie Derek Wright running in some three-wide situations with the first offense.

"Derek knows what he's doing," Rhule said. "He gets open, and he catches the football. At the core of playing receiver, you get open and catch the ball. He keeps making plays."

— In addition to Saunders, the Panthers had a few other guys in red jerseys, as tight ends Ian Thomas, Colin Thompson, and Josh Babicz were held out. Rookie linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley was also sidelined.

— Belichick spoke to reporters before practice and was complimentary of the Panthers' personnel.

He specifically noted the offseason upgrades on special teams (such as punter Johnny Hekker and returner Andre Roberts) and also said the Panthers defense was "as good as any we'll see."

— The Panthers and Patriots will do it again tomorrow and then have a day off before Friday's preseason game. There's some rain in the forecast in the coming days, but the conditions were sublime Tuesday, with the temperature in the low-to-mid-70s with low humidity (which is something we never say in Spartanburg).

View photos from Tuesday's practice with the New England Patriots in Foxborough.

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