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Talking about practice: Day 11


SPARTANBURG, S.C. - The Panthers got an unexpected break between periods at Wednesday's practice, but they didn't exactly enjoy the break.

Following two lackadaisical team periods, head coach Ron Rivera gathered the entire team in a huddle and passionately implored them to pick up their play.

The players answered his call to action.

"I was very pleased with their effort, with the way they came back out," Rivera said. "I wanted to make sure people understand the way we've got to practice. We're looking forward to game time (Saturday), so we went in shoulder pads today, but our tempo just wasn't very good.

"Just because we've backed down doesn't mean we don't practice hard. We've got to practice smart – we don't want big collisions because we're not in full pads – but to do what we did by basically wasting two periods, that was disappointing. It doesn't matter what (equipment) we're in; we're competing. That's the message."

Veteran left tackle Jordan Gross said the team got the message loud and clear and that he appreciated the way Rivera delivered it. Rivera doesn't chew out the team very often, but when he does, he has everyone's full attention.

"Camp has gone very well, and each practice has really built on the one before. The focus has been good, and the intensity has been good. Today was probably a little bit different to start," Gross said. "Coach Rivera didn't see practice going the way he would have liked, and he let us know. That's something that I respect about him, that he'll tell you when you're doing well and tell you when you're not."

Rivera intended the message for everyone, but it could be of the utmost important to young players trying to find their niche with the Panthers.

"A lot of opportunities are passed up by not practicing hard," Rivera said. "I wanted to make sure the younger guys understood that last year we had to use 18 extra players (because of a record number of players on injured reserve), and a lot of those came from guys that were at training camp and on the practice squad. There are opportunities, and they better make the best of them."


Wide receiver Steve Smith sat out practice, one day after suffering a knee bruise, but Rivera didn't sound too concerned.

"Steve is getting better, but we want to be smart with it," Rivera said. "He's a veteran guy who understands that you do play the way you practice, but we don't want to wear him out. When you talk to Steve about toning it down, the best way to do that is to just take his pads and hide them."

Rivera is more concerned about second-year offensive tackle Lee Ziemba, who hasn't practiced since suffering a knee injury Thursday.

"There is a little bit of concern," Rivera said. "He went and saw the doctors, and they're deciding what to do with him."

Ziemba's absence prompted the Panthers to sign guard Justin Wells. The 6-4, 316-pounder out of St. Augustine's University made an impression as a tryout player at the Panthers' rookie camp in May.

"With Ziemba out, we wanted to add an extra player, and he can help us on Saturday," Rivera said. "He was in the rookie camp and flashed. When we started talking about who we could bring in, (offensive line) Coach (John) Matsko brought his name up."

To make room on the roster, the Panthers waived and reached an injury settlement with wide receiver Hubert Anyiam.

Linebacker Thomas Davis, sidelined throughout camp with a strained calf, strapped on the helmet for a little more field time than he has been getting, in addition to doing some work on the side.

Rookie defensive linemen Nate Chandler and Ryan Van Bergen had their practice cut short by cramps as the sun broke out shortly before noon, sending them to the locker room for some cool air and IV treatment.


--With Smith on the sideline, quarterback Cam Newton and wide receiver Brandon LaFell continued to build their rapport. The two connected on a number of different routes, highlighted by a couple of beauties down the seam.

--One of Newton's prettiest plays was a ball deep down the right sideline into the arms of wide receiver Darvin Adams, made possible by Newton's nice one-handed snag of an off-center shotgun snap.

--Newton hit wideout Seyi Ajirotutu with a perfectly placed ball on an out pattern, even with linebacker Jon Beason doing all he could in coverage. Moments later, cornerback Josh Thomas broke up a similar play.

--Cornerback Chris Gamble recorded a nifty pass breakup when quarterback Derek Anderson looked like he would hook up with receiver Michael Avila. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn – who said he wanted to compete with Gamble for the No. 1 job – broke up an Anderson pass for Jared Green on the very next snap.

--Linebacker Kion Wilson came up with the only turnover of the practice, recovering a fumble after a swarm of defenders closed in on running back Josh Vaughan on a dump-off over the middle.

--Kicker Justin Medlock went 4-for-4 on field goals during a rapid-fire session. Twice without warning, special teams coach Brian Murphy barked out a virtual clock ticking toward zero, and Medlock connected both times – from 49 and 52 yards. Olindo Mare made 2-for-4 under similar circumstances, missing the buzzer-beaters.

NEXT UP: The Panthers are again scheduled to practice from 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursday. They'll go from 2:45-5 p.m. on Friday, leading up to Saturday's preseason opener at Bank of America Stadium against the Houston Texans (7 p.m., Panthers TV).

They'll close out training camp back at Wofford with practices Monday (3-5 p.m.), Tuesday (10:30 a.m.-1 p.m.) and Wednesday (10:30 a.m.-1 p.m.).

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