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Carolina Panthers

Joint Practice Observations: Tempers flare again


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — There were football things Panthers head coach Matt Rhule would love to talk about.

But he knows that for the second straight day, the attention after his team's joint practice with the Patriots would be on the fights that broke out during the session.

There were two separate incidents. During a kickoff drill, Panthers safety Kenny Robinson hit Patriots receiver Kristian Wilkerson and stood over him while Wilkerson was down. Moments later, tempers flared when Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey took an extra shot from Patriots defensive end Deatrich Wise as he was going out of bounds, and McCaffrey got up and threw the ball back in anger. Punches were thrown as teammates crowded around, and it took several minutes for both coaches to get their teams together to continue.

That melee also spilled into the bleachers along the sidelines, and a fan had to be checked by medical personnel.

Robinson was thrown out of practice for the second straight day. The Patriots sent Wise off. Panthers running back Chuba Hubbard was ejected by the officials on the scene for throwing a punch.

Four players were thrown out of Tuesday's practice as well.

"First of all, it's unfortunate on a day of so much good football; I know the storyline will be about what happened," Rhule said. "The decisions of one or two people impact a lot of people. My thoughts are with the woman that was hurt over there, hopefully, she's OK.

"Obviously, we sent Kenny off the field. I didn't see the hit, but I did see him standing over the player, and that's not how we want to practice. Things happen in football, and there are some good clean hits, but we don't stand over them and taunt them and affect their livelihood. So we sent him off."

Rhule was asked if the incident would affect Robinson's employment, and he said he would have to look back at the tape of practice to see what happened, but he clearly wasn't a fan of the way things went down.

"Two days now, practice was affected by a guy; we'll have to talk about it," Rhule said.

"It's about how you handle it when you knock a guy down," Rhule continued. "You should be playing football the real way where you help a guy up, not standing over a guy.

"Hate something like that happens; there's 160 guys that just want to practice football and a couple of guys who take it too far."

Quarterback Baker Mayfield said that when Rhule called the team together, he warned them that the next incident would not be tolerated.

"Coach Rhule was just saying that any more fights, we're canceling practice, and we'll just go against each other," Mayfield said. "So let's not waste these opportunities to go against other competition and work on our craft. Just focusing. It's going to get chippy; we're competing. But just be smart."

McCaffrey was trying to be as polite as he could about the situation, saying: "I don't know what happened, it's football, stuff happens, it gets a little chippy sometimes. That's just the way it goes."

But he also grinned later in his press conference when he was asked about the development of the offense as a whole and mentioned his offensive line "having my back."

"It's pretty cool," McCaffrey said of the support. "It makes my job easy knowing you've got guys in your corner. So I'm proud to be a part of that huddle."

— Center Bradley Bozeman is going to miss "two or three weeks" with an ankle injury suffered in Tuesday's practice.

Rhule said there was some initial concern Bozeman had suffered a broken ankle, but that it wasn't as bad as they initially feared.

"We were told on the field yesterday it could be a fracture; thankfully it's not," Rhule said. "Not the best news, but obviously not as bad as we thought."

Bozeman was competing for the starting center job with Pat Elflein, so Elflein will stay with the first group at the moment. They had Sam Tecklenburg, who was on the team last year and started a game, with the second group.

They also worked rookie Cade Mays more at center on Wednesday. He's taken some snaps in the middle throughout camp though most of his work has come at guard. He's a versatile player, and that helps his chances of making the 53-man roster.

— The injury list continues to grow, and the Panthers continue to run thin at a couple of key spots.

Wide receivers Robbie Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr., and Andre Roberts were sidelined Wednesday after practicing on Tuesday.

Rhule said Anderson had a quad strain, and that Marshall was dealing with a hamstring issue. Along with the injury that will keep C.J. Saunders out another couple of weeks, the Panthers were down to eight receivers in practice.

Tight end Tommy Tremble was also out of practice, though that doesn't appear to be as serious of a situation.

They were already limited at that position, with Ian Thomas and Colin Thompson and rookie Josh Babicz on the sidelines.

— One of the plays of the day came when Sam Darnold needed to score a touchdown on a final-play-of-the-game situation, and threaded a needle between Patriots defenders and found undrafted rookie Derek Wright for a touchdown.

It was a combination of an excellent throw and an excellent catch, and McCaffrey said he loves the way the undrafted rookie from Utah State is making an impact.

"He's a guy who since he's showed up here hasn't said a word, but he goes out and makes plays," McCaffrey said of Wright. "He's always in the right spot at the right time. I have a lot of respect for the way he operates and the way he shows up to work every day. So I was happy for him, and happy for our offense.

"We treat every period very seriously, so it was fun to cap it off with a touchdown in a difficult situation."

— Of course, Wright has to show up every day to get noticed. But you know who else shows up and makes plays? DJ Moore.

The star wideout had another excellent practice Wednesday, making a pair of highlight-reel touchdown catches, one each from Darnold and Mayfield.

The Patriots are a physical defense, and Moore and cornerback Jalen Mills have gone at it all week, but Moore continues to show his ability to make plays in traffic.

— During one period of one-on-one drills on opposite fields, the Panthers had a couple of highlights.

Wide receiver Brandon Zylstra made an amazing left-handed catch (he only needed the one), and moments later on the other field, cornerback Jaycee Horn used his strength to muscle out big ol' Patriots receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey (who is 6-foot-4, 225) and pull down the pick.

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

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