Panthers wrap up camp

SPARTANBURG, S.C. - When Panthers head coach Ron Rivera approached rookie kicker Adi Kunalic during the final practice of training camp Wednesday and asked him to identify the outer limit of his field goal range, Kunalic said he could connect from 62 yards.

For a minute there, Kunalic probably wished he had said 52.

At the end of practice, Rivera told the team that in order for them to avoid meetings back in Charlotte on Wednesday evening, Kunalic needed to make a 62-yarder.

Then as Kunalic lined up, Rivera asked his teammates to pick a side: Stand to Kunalic's left if you believe he'll make it; stand to his right if you believe he'll miss it.

"Those who didn't think he would make it, if he missed it, they got to get off," Rivera said. "But nobody wanted to take the bet. They stayed behind their teammate."

So Rivera called off the kick – and the evening meetings – officially bringing a successful camp at Wofford College to a close.

"It was a good experience," Rivera said. "I'm real pleased with the players. I think they got a sense and a feel for what we want and how we want things done. I think they grasped that.

"The thing that was exciting was we had a short period of time, and I think our guys have grasped a lot of the concepts in terms of what we want to do offensively, defensively and special teams. It was a big step. We're heading in the right direction."

The Panthers arrived at camp July 30 with an overwhelming task before them. With a new staff, with a roster that featured more than 30 new players – many of whom couldn't practice for nearly a week at the start of camp – and without the benefit of minicamps and OTAs during the offseason, the team had to be ready to play a preseason game in two weeks.

The heavy lifting before the regular season opener Sept. 11 at the Arizona Cardinals will continue in Charlotte, but training camp now represents a strong start.

"I think it went really well," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "Coach Rivera definitely held a tougher camp than I expected, but we needed it. It was very productive.

"We technically went to one-a-days, but those practices in the evening were long, plus we had our pads on a lot. We needed to get the work in, and he definitely let us know what's expected of us."

Rivera told the team following the final practice that they had come together nicely as a group, but he also let the team know that the hard work was far from over. The Panthers will be on a plane Thursday for Friday night's preseason game at the Miami Dolphins.

"It's going to be great to get back home, but now we've got a big game against Miami," Gross said. "These next two preseason games are the most important for the starters."

After Rivera let the team as well as Kunalic off the hook for the camp-ending kick, Kunalic still couldn't help himself. With a couple of teammates goading him on, Kunalic attempted the 62-yarder anyway, knuckling one that didn't even come close.

Kunalic quickly grabbed another football, however, and promptly drilled it.

"It was good that the whole team had confidence in me to hit it," said Kunalic, an undrafted rookie from Nebraska. "I was ready to make it."

And the Panthers were ready to head home, even if for only a short time.

"Getting home, being in your own bed and seeing your family is great," Gross said.

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