Panthers Notebook

Early arrival in San Diego prompts early bedtime for Panthers

jjones@charlotteobserver.comDecember 14, 2012 

With the Carolina Panthers flying to San Diego on Friday, a day earlier than most road games, the team will have a curfew of 11 p.m.

Usually team security and an assistant coach do the bed checks. But on this trip, coach Ron Rivera will be making the rounds.

“I think any night you’re out after midnight is a bad night. I really do mean that, too,” Rivera said. “They’re young men with a little bit of money and in some cases they have a target on their back. Sometimes they put it on their own back.

“You hope they’re mature enough and can handle themselves and do the right things and make the right decisions, especially with all the resources that are out there to help them take care of themselves.”

The NFL has seen two players die in consecutive weekends. Kansas City’s Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend on Dec. 1 before turning the gun on himself. On Saturday, Dallas’ Josh Brent was charged with intoxication manslaughter after a car accident killed passenger and teammate Jerry Brown.

The NFL Players Association has a “safe ride” program that’s available to players 24 hours a day. The service is confidential, but Rivera said he would be pleased to know players utilized it.

“If I do hear about it I’d say kudos because that’s what you want them to do,” Rivera said. “Growing up, I was fortunate enough where my father always said, ‘Hey, you call me at 1 o’clock in the morning,’ he always told us no questions asked. So as young people you felt you have somebody you can rely on and they’re not going to judge you, it makes it easier to make the right decisions.”

INJURY UPDATE: In a week where eight starters appeared on the Panthers’ injury report, a ninth showed up on the list Thursday.

Defensive end Charles Johnson sat out of practice with back spasms. He joined defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (wrist), center Geoff Hangartner (foot), wide receiver Brandon LaFell (toe) and running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle) on the “did not participate” list.

Participating fully in practice for the first time this week were guard Jeff Byers (back), linebacker Thomas Davis (knee) and safety Charles Godfrey (back). James Anderson continued to be limited with a lower back injury that kept him out of the Atlanta game.

“We’ll just have to see,” Anderson said about his status for Sunday. “It depends on how I feel tomorrow and the flight and that type of stuff.”

Godfrey said he felt much better on the field Thursday. He was active for the Atlanta game but did not play due to a stiff back.

He’ll slide to free safety on Sunday while D.J. Campbell will take over at strong safety.

“Free safety you’re more able to play the ball,” Godfrey said. “Coach Rivera has talked to me about we need some plays in the back end, so moving me to free safety so that when the ball’s in the air I’m able to go get it.”

KICK DUTIES: The Panthers plan to go with the same combination at kick and punt returners as they did Sunday against Atlanta.

Rookie Joe Adams will field the punts against the Chargers while Armond Smith, recently signed from the practice squad, will return kicks for the second consecutive game.

Smith returned three kicks against Atlanta for an average of 18 yards and a long of 26. Adams, who was benched for six games after fumbling two punts against the Giants, has averaged 10.1 yards per punt return this season.

Two of Atlanta’s punts sailed out of bounds and Adams called for fair catch on the other two.

“I think people are starting to understand he’s worked at it, he’s worked on some things and hopefully he’ll continue to get better,” Rivera said.

“I stood back there (in the special teams meeting) with the returners and I said, ‘You know they kicked those out of bounds. If that doesn’t tell you they respect your ability, I’m not sure what will.’ I think he got a little boost of confidence knowing that.”

COMING HOME: Kamaal McIlwain wasn’t far from Bank of America Stadium on Tuesday when his agent told him he was the latest Carolina Panther.

McIlwain was in his hometown of Indian Land, S.C., delivering a speech when he learned the Panthers had signed him to the practice squad.

A Newberry College graduate, he is one of three cornerbacks on the practice squad, and he was most recently with the New Orleans Saints in the preseason.

“I’m trying to stay focused. This is my third team and only my second year. I’m on my fourth playbook,” McIlwain said. “So really I’ve got to lock in and understand what I did wrong the last time so I’m not repeating mistakes.”

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