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Rained-out final practice doesn't dampen training camp experience

Wofford practice fields

SPARTANBURG — Former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme was just hanging out in the lobby of the Mungo Student Center Thursday morning, drinking a cup of coffee and talking about what he saw in Wednesday's practice when the news came down.

Phone rings; it's some guy named Luke Kuechly.

"He's turning around and going back to the house," Delhomme said with a shake of his head.

This was not the way anyone was hoping training camp would end, with a rained-out joint practice with the Jets and a quiet walk-through without fans before the Panthers left Wofford College for another year.

Storms that rolled through the Upstate forced the cancellation of the final practice, which dampened some of the enthusiasm of the day before — when more than 10,000 tickets were distributed for the first session with the Jets.

But Panthers head coach Frank Reich said the lower fields were just too soggy to safely practice, so they just had a solo walk-through in Gibbs Stadium and called it a camp. What wasn't diminished was the way he felt about the camp, which came through in one of the meetings last night.

"We love where we're at," Reich said. "But we know we're not where we want to be yet."

Reich doesn't like singling out individuals or even individual position groups, but some of the progress in Spartanburg is undeniable.

Putting together a brand-new offense was going to be a challenge — with a staff that's still putting it together — but rookie quarterback Bryce Young impressed him and his teammates throughout.

"I mean, Bryce has looked good," Reich said. "He's continued to progress, like the rest of the guys on the team. Obviously, there's a lot of attention and focus on being the first pick of the draft and being our starting quarterback. So I get that.

"I think he's checked every box that he was supposed to check through training camp, you know, taking over the huddle, the leadership, his role of leadership in the locker room and on the field, his command of the offense."

And while there are specifics they see every day when they watch practice film, most of the camp takeaways were more broad-based for Reich.

"I just continue to be impressed at the leadership of his team," Reich said. "This team has really strong young leaders, and the breadth of leadership is good. And the way we work, the way that this team works out of practice. I mean, how hard the players push themselves in individual periods. It's impressive. I got a lot of respect for the way we're working as a team, and it's creating a good foundation for us."

They'll remain in training camp mode for a few weeks, and the attention will now turn to Saturday's preseason opener against the Jets.

Reich has said Young will start and play, and while he was short on specifics, he did say he expected most of the starters to play a role. That likely won't include running back Miles Sanders, who tweaked a groin muscle and may not play against the Jets, but most of the other regulars should.

"I just want those guys to get in there and get some reps," Reich said. "We just feel like we're at a different stage. A lot of teams won't play their starters in preseason. Listen, we've talked as a team from the very beginning and said, hey, we're, you know, we're going to play in the preseason; we talked to the guys about that upfront. And just so that everybody would understand what's ahead of us, and just how it's necessary for us to do that new schemes, new coaching staff, young team. And plus, we start the year off with two division opponents, so we've got to get ready to go."

And Thursday afternoon, that meant going back to Charlotte.

View photos of the fans at the Panthers' joint practice against the New York Jets on Wednesday in Spartanburg.

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