Blaring over the speakers at the start of Carolina Panthers’ practice Friday was Fun’s hit song “We Are Young.”
Players were still singing the song after the stretching session, including quarterback Cam Newton, who added his own twist to the song as he pointed to the media on the sideline.
“Tonight, we are young,” Newton crooned. “So let’s set this field on fire!”
The Panthers will look to carry that fire into Sunday night’s preseason game against the New York Jets, which will likely be the last game in which the starters play until Week 1 of the regular season.
“I think the tempo will be increased to a degree,” said Newton of his expectations Sunday. “We’re just going to have to do what our coaches have been preaching since Day One. Everybody has to be accountable, doing their job. And most importantly, just finish.”
For the past two preseason games, head coach Ron Rivera has said his two main goals were to be consistent and stay healthy. The offense will be without veteran Steve Smith (foot infection), while the defense will see the return of linebacker Thomas Davis but remain without fellow linebacker Jon Beason.
And while Rivera was pleased with how his offensive starters moved the ball downfield against the Miami Dolphins last week — Carolina had 296 total yards of offense in the first half compared to the Dolphins’ 96 — he still wanted a touchdown instead of a field goal on the first drive of the game.
The Panthers will have to put it together on their biggest stage of the season so far. Sunday’s game will be aired nationally by NBC in primetime, and Rivera had his team treat this week as if it were the regular season.
“I feel as if every stage is big for us this year,” Newton said. “We feel as though we have a point to prove, and we’ve got to have that chip on our shoulder each and every game. The leaders have stepped up and will step up and understand what must be done.”
The starters are slated to get between 36 and 45 plays Sunday. Rivera expects them to go into the third quarter, but that will be based on performance. Last week, the starters were expected to go roughly 25 plays and two quarters before the offense dismantled the Dolphins in 21 first-quarter plays and sat the rest of the game.
“I’m always excited, as you may see,” Newton said. “I get to play this game of football, man. I love it. I just have another opportunity to do it.”
Jets head coach Rex Ryan said earlier this week he won’t break out the Wildcat with backup quarterback Tim Tebow. Likewise, the Carolina offense will keep its playbook as vanilla as it has in the first two games, hoping not to give too many plays away before the start of the regular season.
“We just have to keep executing and understand what (offensive coordinator Rob) Chudzinski and the rest of the coaches want to accomplish,” Newton said. “Every play is not going to be a home run play, but it’s my job and the other guys’ jobs on this offense to know what their assignments and alignments are and get that job done.”