Panthers reach goal in return to practice

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SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The primary goal in football is to get the ball over the goal line while not allowing your opponent to do the same, but that's a tricky proposition in practice.

Nonetheless, the Panthers ran a gaggle of goal line plays for the first time during training camp Monday, with – not surprisingly – mixed results.

"We're trying to give guys the chance to make plays, but the hard part for the defense is that because it's not an all-out, take-them-to-the-ground situation, it's tough for them," head coach Ron Rivera said. "You wish you could just cut it loose all the time, but we can't. But it was good to see. It was a good tempo."

The defense had the upper hand as far as healthy bodies in the trenches were concerned, with defensive end Charles Johnson (back) returning to action while left guard Amini Silatolu (groin) missed his second consecutive practice.

The guard position also lost recent acquisition Chris Scott to dehydration during practice and was again without rookie Edmund Kugbila, whose injured hamstring is improving.

"There's a little concern there with a couple of guys getting nicked up, but the big thing is taking care of them, making sure they're off their feet and getting their rest," Rivera said.

Fullback Mike Tolbert, wide receiver Domenik Hixon and cornerback Josh Thomas missed practice with leg injuries.

STAR IN THE MAKING: Star Lotulelei said he isn't feeling any added pressure to perform because he was the Panthers' first-round pick in 2013, but he and fellow defensive tackle Kawann "KK" Short – the Panthers' second-round choice – have high expectations for themselves.

"This is a big week, my first NFL game," Lotulelei said. "(Defensive line) Coach  (Eric) Washington called me and KK into the defensive line room and let us know some little things about what he thinks the Chicago offense might be running. I know he expects good things from us, and that's what we're going to give him."

The rookies will make their NFL debut Friday night when the Panthers host the Bears at Bank of America Stadium. Lotulelei admitted Monday that the learning curve has been steep at times, but he's ready to take the next step.

"It's been tough scheme-wise coming from a place where what I had to do was hold blocks and open up plays for linebackers," Lotulelei said. "Over here, they expect the defensive line to make their own plays. We're not expected to just block people, but we've got great linebackers that come downhill and help us out."

Rivera thinks Lotulelei might be selling himself a bit short.

"He's been everything we thought he could be and maybe a little bit more," Rivera said. "He's showing his athleticism and his strength, and he's a sharp kid. His retention coming back after OTAs and minicamp was very good, and his work ethic is phenomenal. And really KK has been the same."

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SMITH'S SPIN: An NFL video highlighting rule changes and points of emphasis for the 2013 season specifically referred to spinning the ball after a reception as a possible act of taunting.

That had to make Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith sit up in his chair, but he's not taking it sitting down.

"It's going to be there. I just have to alter it a little bit," Smith said. "Some people probably are like, 'Yes, it's finally gone.' I hate to burst your bubble – just call me a dream crusher – but it's still here."

Referee Walt Anderson, who visited Panthers training camp last week and answered questions from players and later from the media regarding rule changes and points of emphasis, said spinning the ball will still be allowed as long as it's not deemed to be directed "in the vicinity of an opponent."

TAR HEEL TERRITORY: Former University of North Carolina tight end Zack Pianalto had been waiting nearly a year for another shot at the NFL. It's an added bonus that the team closest to his alma mater is the one giving him that chance.

"I was looking for a job anywhere, but Carolina obviously is near and dear to my heart," Pianalto said. "Being the only Tar Heel on the team, I feel privileged – I can't believe there's not another one. I love this area of the country, and I'm excited to go to work."

After setting single-season and career records for the most catches by a North Carolina tight end, Pianalto played 13 games as a rookie for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2011. He's hoping to further develop his game with Greg Olsen in his position group.

"Greg has had a lot of success in this offense. He's a phenomenal player," Pianalto said. "Being able to learn from someone like him is going to help my career out ten-fold."

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