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Panthers feed off frenzied fans

CHARLOTTE – Ron Rivera did a lot of shouting after practice at Fan Fest Saturday.

The Panthers head coach wasn't angry. He wasn't trying to get a message through to his team.

He was just trying to talk loudly enough so reporters could hear him over the raucous crowd noise that suddenly engulfed Bank of America Stadium.

His players had begun signing autographs for fans in the lower bowl, and his star quarterback Cam Newton had grabbed a sharpie to partake.

When that happens, Rivera knows it's about to get loud. And that's what he likes to hear.

"It means a lot," Rivera said of the passion and support shown by the 20,070 fans who attended practice. "It means that our fans are behind us. Now we have to do our part. We have to repay that support by playing some good football."

The Panthers took another step toward that goal Saturday, working through another up-tempo practice. The stadium atmosphere added a new pressure element to the day's work, a challenge Rivera was eager to see his team take on.

"Having our fans here really means something to our players," Rivera said. "The enthusiasm, the effort we got was good. We got better in some areas and there are some areas we have to improve, but overall, I was pleased."

"We're not anywhere near where we want to be," he added. "This is a team that's good, but we don't want to be good, we want to be great. We have to be much more consistent than we were."

Rivera is looking for stability across the board, starting with his kickers and punters who had an inconsistent day as a unit in front of the crowd.

"In the big circus of everything, you've got to focus, so it continues as far as that's concerned with the competition," Rivera said. "We've got a long way to go and we will get better."

Highlights were provided by the defense in the takeaway department, thanks to an interception by rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly and two more picks from newly-signed cornerback Nate Ness, who now has three interceptions in the span of two practices with the team.

"We're a team that wants our corners to play with their eyes on the ball. (Nate) seems to have success doing that," Rivera said.

The offense worked on its running game often during red zone drills, and DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart each found room to run for scores.

Newton added another score on the ground with a designed quarterback keeper up the middle, and he found Brandon LaFell through the air, firing a 4-yard touchdown strike to the wideout in the back of a crowded end zone.

LaFell assumed the No.1 wide receiver role with Steve Smith getting the day off.

"Purely precautionary," Rivera said. "Steve didn't need to practice today, and we're trying to cycle him and give him days off. This just happened to be one of those days.

The team's no. 1 cornerback -- Chris Gamble -- also did not participate as a precaution.

"Chris – his groin was a little bit tight, and we just thought it would be a good chance to give him a day off," Rivera said. "We didn't want to risk anything."

The team has Sunday off before heading back to Spartanburg to resume training camp practice at Wofford College Monday.

They'll have an actual game against an opponent to look forward to with the preseason opener against the Houston Texans next Saturday at Bank of America Stadium 8 p.m. But Rivera isn't concerning himself, or his team, with opponents just yet.

There's more refining to be done at camp.

"We'll get right back to our installation more than anything else," Rivera said. "Later on in the week, we'll start focusing on the Texans. We'll get a little more work done on what we do and how we do it."


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