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Training Camp Observations: Opening Night

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The first practice of training camp Thursday night at Gibbs Stadium didn’t feature a bunch of highlight reel plays, but that didn’t bother head coach Ron Rivera.

“It wasn’t flashy today, but that’s not what we’re looking for,” Rivera said. “We’re looking for consistent. I was really pleased with it.”

With new owner David Tepper watching from the sideline, the Panthers kicked off camp with a session that did have plenty of entertaining moments.

Without further ado, here is the first set of practice observations.

- Quarterback Cam Newton wanted to hear some music during practice. He made that clear early on, as he yelled to the crowd, “Y’all want music?” Eventually, he got his wish. Rivera gave the thumbs up, and DJ Vinny cranked up the music, which played until the end of practice. A new era indeed.

- As expected, Amini Silatolu was first up at left guard. And in the secondary, cornerback Kevon Seymour was first up alongside James Bradberry, with Da’Norris Searcy running at first-team safety with incumbent Mike Adams.

- One of the more interesting plays occurred during the first team period, as linebacker Thomas Davis reacted perfectly to defend a short pass from Newton. But Davis couldn’t corral the ball, and wide receiver DJ Moore took advantage, reeling it in to the delight of the crowd.

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- Fourth-round draft choice Ian Thomas had himself a solid practice. He caught a bunch of passes underneath and ran hard, which caught Rivera’s eye. When he gets moving, he’s going to be tough for defensive backs to bring down. Speaking of tight ends, Rivera also praised Jason Vander Laan, who continued to get open just like he did throughout the spring.

- It was a tough opening night for wide receiver Devin Funchess. After dropping a quick slant late in the session, the wideout limped off with leg cramps and sat out the remainder of practice.

- Wide receiver Damiere Byrd had one of the better catches of the night, going to ground to reel in a low pass from quarterback Garrett Gilbert with rookie cornerback Donte Jackson all over him. Wide receiver Rasheed Bailey also flashed, particularly when he reached up to snare a rocket from quarterback Taylor Heinecke.

- When Newton spotted a fan raising a box of Bojangles', there was only one thing to do: an impromptu picnic with the quarterbacks. The picture speaks for itself.

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- One of Rivera’s favorite plays of the night came courtesy of an all-too-familiar connection. Newton hit Greg Olsen down the seam for a big gain, and Rivera credited the pre-training camp workouts in Baltimore for helping to establish some timing even before stepping foot in Spartanburg.

“It was a supposed to be a little different route, but Greg bent it more inside and Cam threw it there because he knew he was going to be there,” Rivera said. “That’s what you want to develop.”

- A couple football fashion notes: First, wide receiver Moze Frazier was wearing his game pants during practice (anyone remember when Leonard Johnson used to do that?). Second, undrafted rookie linebacker Chris Frey is rivaling Newton for shortest shorts on the practice field.

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- Wade’s, a local dining establishment, had a plane flying over Gibbs Stadium with a sign that read: “Keep camp in Spartanburg”.

-Last but certainly not least, some observations on Tepper, who signed autographs, fist-bumped fans and appeared to thoroughly enjoy his first practice at training camp. He roamed the sideline and chatted briefly with various players. He made his way onto the field during an install period to talk with Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney for a good bit.

“He watches and ask questions about guys,” Rivera said. “He said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t assume I know,’ so he asks a lot of questions. That’s what he was doing. He asked a lot of questions and made a lot of comments about things.”

As is often the case, Newton was a topic of discussion.

“One thing we did laugh about was the energy we got from the crowd and from Number One,” Rivera said. “He kind of looked around, seeing how much fun (Cam) has.”

At one point, Tepper started mimicking Newton’s dance moves to great effect.

“Hey, I can dance,” he said with a wide smile.

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