SPARTANBURG, S.C. – With the pressure of the most intense practice of training camp bearing down on him, further amplified by an injury to Charles Johnson that put him even more on the spot, rookie defensive end Kony Ealy could have wilted.
Instead, even with quarterback Cam Newton giving him an earful between plays, Ealy did the best he could to stay as cool as another unseasonably mild Spartanburg day.
"Cam was challenging me, and I went out there and showed him," said Ealy, the Panthers' second-round draft choice. "Then after practice, Cam was like, 'That's what I'm talking about. Do that every day.'
"Basically he was telling me, 'We're counting on you this season. This is what we need you to do in order to be more successful.' That's the type of support I'm getting."
Things haven't been easy for Ealy so far, certainly not as smooth as last season at Missouri when his 9.5 sacks earned him first-team All-Southeastern Conference status and set him up to turn pro with one year of eligibility remaining.
Saturday, when Johnson went out after tweaking his hamstring, there was no rest for the weary. Then came an earful from Newton, peppering the rookie between plays with well-placed verbal jabs.
"That does nothing but energize me. It feeds my fire," Ealy said. "I like it. I like to talk, too.
"At the same time, we all have one common goal, and that's to be victorious."
The chatter continued after practice – in a positive way that has punctuated Ealy's first training camp to this point.
"The nice part is Cam went up to him afterwards. He put his arm around him and said, 'Hey, that's it.' You've got to learn to push,' " head coach Ron Rivera said. "Quite honestly, things have been easy for Kony. He had such a great college career. Now you get up here and it's a little bit different.
"There's a lot of pressure for guys to perform, and it was great to see somebody put pressure on him and then go put their arm around him and say, 'You are going to get it, kid.' He did some nice things, and I'm excited to watch this tape."
Of Ealy's preconceived notions about what life in the NFL would be like, the tenor of his interactions with teammates has surprised him most.
"I'm very thankful for it, especially at this level where we're all men," Ealy said. "It could be every man for himself, but this team is different. There are a lot of guys on the defensive side of the ball – not just my position group – and on the offensive side of the ball helping out.
"I'm learning a lot from Chuck (Charles Johnson) and G. Hardy and really all the vets on the D-line. I'm basically like a little brother to everybody. They're making sure I know everything I need to know before going into this first game. Everybody wants so much for me."
The list of Panthers pushing Ealy is headed by Ealy himself.
"Nobody has a higher expectation than God or me," Ealy said. "I expect to do so many great things, but I want to just be there and do my part for my teammates."