SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Head coach Ron Rivera said it was that time on the training camp schedule – the time when the grind of going hard against each other day after day sometime spills over.
This one, however, was a little different. This time, the franchise quarterback was involved.
Quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Josh Norman got into it midway through practice Monday after Norman intercepted a Newton pass and headed down the sideline with it.
Quarterbacks wear red jerseys at practice as a stop sign prohibiting contact, but in the heat of battle, the gloves and such labels sometimes come off.
"He's just like any of us. He's willing to fight," Rivera said. "He's a football player at the end of the day. If he throws an interception, it might mean tackling the guy before he gets to the end zone to give our defense a chance.
"On an interception, we preach to the defense to score. Even though I blew the whistle, Josh kept going like he's taught, and the offense continued to act. What happened was Cam got stiff-armed in the helmet, and that's when it escalated.
"You have to understand that, hey, you're going to get stiff-armed. You've just got to handle it. And to Josh the message is, 'Hey, just understand the situation. This is one of your teammates. Be smart about that.' "
Rivera and then Newton addressed the team immediately after practice, which returned to normal right after the mid-practice incident.
"You know how I feel about fighting. I'm not a big fan of it, but I know at the end of the day that the guys will come back together and be the team that we are," Rivera said. "Cam got up and talked to the guys about it a little bit, too. He understands his responsibility, and he understands what we're trying to do as a football team.
"He told them that what happens out here, what we're trying to accomplish, is becoming a better football team. At the end of the day, we're all family. It was a pointed moment."
Then linebacker Thomas Davis huddled up the team and broke down practice with one word: "Family!"
"There's enough quality leadership on this football team that we know how to end things," Rivera said. "It ended very quickly. We'll be OK."
Said offensive tackle Nate Chandler: "Things happen, but everything is fine. No one got hurt. Today was a heated practice but we got better from it."
The irony is that early in practice, Rivera was so displeased with the intensity that the defense was bringing that he stopped practice and called them together.
"This was our only real, true day to get in some good work in terms of big thuds –wrapping up and tackling," Rivera said. "You don't want to show up on game day (the preseason opener Friday at the Buffalo Bills) and not be ready for that, so it was real disappointing in the first period, so I expressed that."
The defense picked up its intensity in part at the prompting of defensive end Charles Johnson, who rallied them despite sitting out practice with a calf injury. Linebacker Shaq Thompson again missed practice as well, while tight end Ed Dickson returned to full participation for the first time since the second day of camp.
"Charles, we'll see. His calf is sore," Rivera said. "It wasn't as bad as it was yesterday – it's getting better – but we're going to be smart. The one thing we can't afford is not having him ready for the opener."
As for Thompson's status, Rivera said, "We'll see. A lot of it depends on how he reacts to working as hard as he did today, and then we'll see how he is in the morning. I'd love to get him back. I hope he plays against Buffalo."