Students are getting ready to get out of school, but the Carolina Panthers are preparing to go to school. The team will begin four weeks of summer school on Monday at Bank of America Stadium.
Commonly called organized team activities in the NFL, the summer school schedule is similar to a typical day during the season with meetings, practice and weight lifting but condensed into half a day instead of a full day.
"It's getting ready for training camp," head coach John Fox said. "After we complete these 14 practice opportunities, the next time we form up it's for real at training camp."
In many ways summer school is like a science class that has classroom work and a lab. For the Panthers, their early morning meetings where they learn the finer points of the team's offense, defense and special teams serve as the classroom session and the non-contact practice on the field that follows is the lab.
"Even though it's not in pads I think there is a lot to be learned and a lot to be evaluated during that time," Fox said. "There are a lot of technical parts to it that are position related. It doesn't matter if you are a receiver or an offensive tackle or a linebacker, there are skills that they haven't performed on a field since last fall in the regular season."
While the summer school sessions are voluntary, they can benefit veteran players and rookies alike. Unfortunately, rookies cannot participate until after their colleges and universities have held spring graduation ceremonies. This typically only affects players whose schools are on the quarter system.
"We do it together because I think one of the ways young people learn is watching veteran players do it," Fox said. "Even veteran players, we've got a lot of new faces. This year we have more new faces than maybe ever in my tenure (as a head coach). We've got systems - offensive, defensive and special teams - that have to be learned."
Head coach John Fox (left) and offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson (right) will work to improve the passing game during summer school.* (PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
A point of emphasis during summer school will be the passing game. Offensively, the Panthers ranked third in the league in rushing last season but were 27th in passing, and Fox wants to see progress from that part of the offense.
But that does not just mean quarterbacks and wide receivers. Running backs, tight ends and offensive linemen are also included.
"There are protections involved in passing the ball. There are check releases. There are different nuances to the passing game, and those are all areas that we hope to emphasize," Fox said.
One of the unique elements of Fox's course plan is the fun and competitive team building events. One afternoon during the second and third weeks of summer school, he holds a golf outing and a bowling tournament to build camaraderie and team unity among the players.
"We do some things just to get the fellas together to let them interact and get to know one another, not just in the locker room or on the field but off the field," Fox said. "What makes a good team is good relationships, and I think the more you can do as a group the tighter those relationships bond."