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Practice propels Panthers into needed break

SPARTANBURG, S.C.  – Panthers players will get their first break from training camp Wednesday.

Thanks to kicker Graham Gano, the short break will be just a bit longer.

Gano drilled a 50-yard field goal to the cheers of his teammates at the end of practice Tuesday to earn a quicker conclusion to the day.

"It's the players' day off tomorrow, and it will obviously start at some point today, so that's what it was about," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We put a little pressure on Graham. If he missed the kick, they had to come back for a second set of meetings. If he didn't miss the kick, then they were excused after the first set.

"It was great to see him come through for his teammates, and I most certainly expect that he'll get an opportunity to come through for us during the season."

Don't think the Panthers are resting on their laurels, though. Players must still be clocked in until 6 p.m. Tuesday before getting a full day off Wednesday.

"The rest day is perfectly timed," Rivera said. "I really feel good about that."

A trio of veterans got somewhat of a jump on the time off. Wide receiver Steve Smith, center Ryan Kalil and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards all sat out practice, getting a veteran's day off that gave the Panthers a chance to get a longer look at other players as well as different combinations.

Center Jeff Byers returned to practice after missing two days with a banged-up knee, but Kalil's day on the sideline allowed guard Geoff Hangartner to get some reps at center as well. The defensive tackle group got more reps both because of Edwards' day off and because Linden Gaydosh sat out for the third consecutive day. Rivera said that Gaydosh, the No. 1 pick in the Canadian Football League draft, tweaked his back earlier in camp and will get an MRI.

UP-AND-DOWN DAY: Quarterback Cam Newton looked good while hitting several receivers in stride for big plays early in practice, but then the defense struck back as cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and linebacker Chase Blackburn picked off passes.

"That's typical Captain," Rivera said. "I liken him to a little terrier going after a bone. He's going to do whatever he can to get it. It was a very good read and a very good break on Captain's part, and Cam came to that read a little late. If he makes that throw a little bit sooner, I'm not sure Captain has a chance to make that play."

Rivera had kind words for the defense while seeing better days ahead for Newton.

"The defense made some plays. It was a good day for the defense," he said. "Cam missed a couple of throws. He was a little bit late throwing to the sidelines one time, and another time he made a secondary read and tried to come back to it.

"He's going to have to speed that up. Those are things that will be corrected, that (offensive coordinator) Mike (Shula) and (quarterbacks coach) Ken (Dorsey) will get together with him on and go through."

SECONDARY STUFF: Rivera said no "definitive decisions" have been made about starters at cornerback but did acknowledge that Munnerlyn and Drayton Florence "seem to have the jump on everybody."

At safety, D.J. Campbell and Mike Mitchell continue to take turns with the first team on the strong side alongside free safety starter Charles Godfrey. Rivera said that another free safety, undrafted rookie Robert Lester, will benefit from the day off.

"He's struggling a little bit," Rivera said. "It was the seventh practice for him (including two rookie practices in Charlotte before training camp), and it's tough. It's a little bit like hitting a rookie wall during camp.

"A day off came at a good time for him. He's a smart, sharp individual who played in a very good system at Alabama. This isn't too big for him, but it's a good time to take a break and refocus."

FAST START, TOO: In addition to ending practice with a kick, the Panthers kicked off practice with a different look, forming a massive huddle around a few teammates to jumpstart the day.

"You get to a certain point in training camp where things drag a little bit, so we did a little bit of one-on-one pass rush," Rivera explained. "I pulled three defensive tackles and three offensive guards out and let them compete in front of their teammates to get a little energy going.

"It worked. I thought the guys had a nice practice today."

TIGHT END EXCHANGE: The Panthers made their second change at tight end in the last week, signing Zack Pianalto on Tuesday.

The Panthers made room for Pianalto by waiving tight end Nelson Rosario, who spent his rookie season in 2012 on the Panthers' practice squad.

Pianalto, who caught 94 passes for 918 yards in 34 games at North Carolina, played in 13 games as an undrafted rookie for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2011 and caught four passes for 40 yards. He was out of the league last year after the Buccaneers waived him in the final roster cutdown.

The Panthers signed tight end Dominique Curry last week.

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