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Carolina Panthers

Training Camp Observations: Day 9


SPARTANBURG — Practice was supposed to be over when the request came loud and clear — and repeatedly — from the defensive huddle.

"Run it back, run it back."

Frank Reich relented.

So on a second straight day of defensive superiority, the stop-side got to celebrate by stuffing the first offense in a red-zone drill to end the second straight day in full pads.

On first-and-goal from the 10, running back Chuba Hubbard was stopped for a 1-yard gain. Then, quarterback Bryce Young just missed wideout Laviska Shenault Jr., who was ruled out of bounds in the back corner of the end zone. He was being chased by outside linebacker Brian Burns with intent, forcing him to get the ball out quickly. The offense backed up 5 yards on a false start by Cade Mays on the next play before Young threw the ball away on third-and-14 while Burns was pressuring up the middle.

Donte Jackson, Jaycee Horn

The defense actually asked for another period after that before Reich shut it down, and the head coach said he enjoyed the energy they were working with.

"Yeah, talked into a little overtime," Reich said with a laugh. "So that was a good thing. We were pretty spirited out there today. And you've got to love that. We had back-to-back padded days. And yesterday was a long day, and then come back here with that kind of juice and that kind of energy was really good. . . .

"Love these days, love these days. I think we just got a whole lot better the last two days."

It would be a cliche but also factually accurate to call it a "spirited" practice, with lots of jawing in both directions (cornerback Donte Jackson and Hubbard in particular). But Shaq Thompson was flying all over the place even though he wasn't practicing, and there was an obvious intensity about the day.

"Really, the whole team, but the defense especially, was on fire," outside linebacker Yetur Gross-Matos said. "A lot of guys revved up, got an off day coming too, so a lot of guys were selling out and getting after it today."

That's the understatement of the day.

— Reich said that Young would play in the preseason opener against the Jets next week but didn't specify the amount of snaps.

He said he had a general sense of how much he wanted the rookie quarterback to play in the preseason as a whole, though there's some variance built into the system that could push him into a little more or little less work.

But most of the live work he'll get next week will be in Wednesday's first practice against the Jets since the plan is to make Thursday a lighter day. Reich said he looked forward to the work against an elite quarterback like Aaron Rodgers and a quality defense, but there was one thing he said he wasn't interested in and would talk to coach Robert Saleh about in advance.

"Yeah, I mean, the fighting thing I just cannot stand," Reich said. "I mean, it's just useless. I get it; it's a very emotional game. Hopefully, we'll be pros about it."

You know, coach Saleh and I will talk, and we'll talk to the teams. Nobody wants to fight. But everybody's a very prideful competitor. And so we will do everything in our power to promote non-fighting."

The Panthers haven't had much luck with non-fighting in recent joint practices. Two years ago, their practices with Reich's Colts got messy, and last year's work in New England turned into a bench's clearing rumble (at one point, then-Patriot defensive end Henry Anderson was pulling Panthers right tackle Taylor Moton out of the pile).

Chuba Hubbard, Bryce Young

— In addition to Thompson, tight end Hayden Hurst and wide receiver Adam Thielen were given veteran days off Sunday after Vonn Bell and Moton had gotten that treatment earlier in camp.

The absence of Hurst and Thielen certainly complicated Young's red zone chances since they're probably his two most reliable targets down close.

Thompson was out there on every snap, half assistant coach and half hype-man (he got so worked up his sunglasses didn't survive the practice). Thielen took a more casual approach, cutting the sleeves out of his pullover and watching.

Reich said there's a benefit beyond the simple reduction of workload.

"Absolutely; mental, physical, emotional," Reich said. "But our guys have been into it. Shaq's out there; it's like he's coaching the defense today.

"Everybody's really into it. Watching every rep getting good mental reps, but there is there's definitely a benefit for those guys."

— Gross-Matos had a productive day, including what would have been a sack if quarterbacks weren't off-limits, as he continues to push for playing time.

He's getting more work with Marquis Haynes Sr. on the sidelines with a back issue and said he feels more comfortable in a 3-4 defense than he did in last year's 4-3 (though the ends did stand up a significant amount two years ago under coordinator Phil Snow).

But he also said he feels like he has something to prove this year and is aware of the online criticism of his game. The former second-round pick has 8.5 sacks in three seasons and is entering a contract year, so there's every reason to be motivated already. But he laughed and said, "I've got social media like everybody else."

"I'm hungrier than ever," he said. "I hear stuff from the fans, and I want to prove a lot of people wrong. I want to be the best version of myself. . . .

"Fans saying they need an edge rusher and that I'm not good enough. I want to prove to people I am who I say I am."

— In addition to the three guys off and Haynes (back), wide receiver Damiere Byrd was held out with a hamstring injury. Byrd had one of the best catches of Saturday's practice, with a touchdown from Andy Dalton, but he wasn't on the field Sunday.

Outside linebacker Jordan Thomas was on the side riding a bike Sunday with an unspecified issue.

Running back Miles Sanders, who was held out of a few team drills Saturday, was back on the field and practicing fully.

— It wouldn't be a practice without former Panthers hanging around (other than the ones already on staff).

Former linebacker Thomas Davis was in the house Sunday, keeping the parade going.

— Cornerback CJ Henderson ended Young's streak of two practices without an interception by getting him during 7-on-7s.

Henderson's had a good camp, other than the days he missed with a groin issue, and he gives them a solid three-deep in the secondary alongside Jaycee Horn and Jackson.

— With some guys missing, it created opportunities for some reserves to step up.

Wide receiver Shi Smith got some run with the starters in the slot (where Thielen normally is), while Kamu Grugier-Hill replaced Thompson.

Reich said he's also been impressed with former Falcons linebacker Deion Jones, who has been here a week.

"We've talked about this as a staff; man, he's adapted very quickly," Reich said. "I mean, it looks like he belongs. You can tell his experience. He looks good. Looks like he's been here the whole camp."

View photos from the Panthers' ninth practice of training camp in Spartanburg.

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