SPARTANBURG, S.C. – It only took a couple of snaps before the snapping sound associated with a padded practice filled the air at Gibbs Stadium on Sunday.
Linebacker Luke Kuechly met fullback Mike Tolbert in the hole, and at that jarring moment, Panthers training camp took its next natural step.
"I was very pleased with the tempo and physicality," head coach Ron Rivera said. "That's the start of what we've got to maintain as we start looking forward to the season."
The Panthers avoided notable injury as the physicality amped up. Wide receiver David Gettis fell on the ball trying to make a diving catch but returned to action before the practice concluded.
As expected, guard Edmund Kugbila (hamstring) worked on the side along with running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle) and linebacker Jon Beason (knee), and linebacker Thomas Davis (hamstring) again sat out team periods after going through position drills. Rivera said that Kugbila, injured early in practice Saturday, appears to have a slight hamstring pull, though an impending MRI could reveal more details.
Also out Sunday was center Jeff Byers, who took the day to recover from a blow to the knee. Rivera said Byers could return to action when the Panthers practice on Monday at 9:15 a.m.
The addition of pads to the practice equation was a big moment for Panthers rookies, big and small. Defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, the team's top two draft picks, were certainly looking forward to the moment, and they didn't disappoint.
"I was very pleased with them," Rivera said. "They have the ability to make an impact on the defense. They'll let your linebackers run, and they'll impact your pass rush so the quarterback can't step up. That helps the coverage."
At the other end of the scale, the addition of pads also impacted rookie running back Kenjon Barner. The 190-pounder said he got caught off-guard by a hit delivered by safety Haruki Nakamura, but a couple of other times, no one was going to catch him.
The presence of pads in effect increased the speed of the game, but the speedy Barner was ready for it.
"Way back in OTAs, my first couple of reps I ran at full speed. I wasn't really patient about anything," Barner said. "So DeAngelo (Williams) pulled me to the side and told me to slow down, to wait for blocks to set up. That helped me get adjusted."
With Stewart - like Barner a former Oregon star - sidelined, the Panthers need Barner to adjust on the fly. Fortunately, the former track standout knows how to fly.
"I'd be a fool not to (take advantage of Stewart's absence)," Barner said. "The coaches have got to build their trust in me, and that gets me extra reps to be able to show them that I can do what they want me to do.
"If you don't have confidence in you, how can you expect anybody else to have confidence in you?"