CHARLOTTE — There was a tangible lightness of mood after Panthers practice Thursday, and it wasn't just the break in the weather.
While they know there's a long season in front of them, Thursday also represents a break, a last chance to catch your breath before a long season. So when guys walked off the field on a cooler, less humid day, you could tell they knew to take advantage of it.
Panthers players have the next three days off, but it's their last break until the bye week, which doesn't come until December (Week 13). That's a lot of football days in a row before the next pause.
"I hope they enjoy it," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said Thursday. "I hope they go get away a little bit, recoup, but most importantly get their bodies right and their legs back underneath them and come out here Monday for the grind that the season is.
"They've worked really, really, really hard. It's been a really physical camp, and joint practices and all that stuff, so I think it's a well-earned break."
That was four "reallys" in that last paragraph, and Rhule was right. Camp is always a bit of a slog, and the Panthers mixed two sets of joint practices against playoff teams in the mix, making it even more grueling than it normally is.
The hope is that they embrace that work, without being worn down by it.
While good health is never something a team can count on continuing, the Panthers have been generally lucky so far, with only two players on season-ending injured reserve at the moment (cornerback Troy Pride Jr. and rookie long snapper Thomas Fletcher). Other teams have been significantly less fortunate.
But they also know that staying lucky can sometimes be a matter of preparation, and in that regard, Rhule has a team that appears share his passion for process.
Running back Christian McCaffrey, predictably, didn't have big plans for the weekend, as his focus never veers far from being ready for the next football task. Especially after missing most of last season because of injuries, he's visibly eager to get back to the game.
That means no quick vacations this weekend.
"I'll be here. Probably work out, just stay in shape over these next three days," McCaffrey said. "You can't leave it too much. Monday we start right back up. So I think the goal is to reset everything so we come in flying and ready to go."
Likewise, Rhule's never going to be too far away from it. He mentioned spending some time with the family the next few days, but part of that time will be spent watching football.
He said he planned to attend Thursday night's Appalachian State-East Carolina game, then hit Friday's Charlotte game against Duke, before returning to Bank of America Stadium Saturday for Clemson-Georgia.
"It's what I do," he said with a laugh.
And after this weekend, he and his team get to do it for 12 straight weeks.
NOTES: Veteran safety Juston Burris was back on the field Thursday after missing some time earlier this week.
Other than rookie wideout Shi Smith (shoulder), there doesn't appear to be any significant injury concerns at the moment. . . .
New offensive lineman Michael Jordan hadn't made it in and taken care of paperwork by the time practice started, so he'll make his debut on the field Monday. . . .
They added former Cowboys practice squad wide receiver Aaron Parker to the practice squad, giving them 13 officially signed. That leaves three open spots, one of which is expected to be used on a quarterback.
View photos from Thursday's practice as the Panthers put in work before the long weekend.