In front of a record crowd at Bank of America’s annual Fan Fest, the Panthers put on a dress rehearsal for next week as they prepare for the first exhibition of the preseason against Buffalo.
An announced crowd of 55,060 filled the lower bowl and most of the north and south sides of the stadium’s upper bowl. The Panthers ran mostly vanilla offensive plays but worked in team drills on communication and rushes in the red zone.
“They (the crowd) brought a lot of energy to practice,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “We got an opportunity to work on hand signals and communication with the real live crowd. I think the players responded to the energy and I was real excited with the things our guys did on the football field.”
Carolina’s first-team offense struggled in its first two days practicing in the red zone, much like it did during the regular season last year when they finished 26th overall in the league. But Friday night the offense mixed in rushes inside the 20 rather than relying each down on the arm of Cam Newton.
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“For the most part we’ve been working on certain elements of our passing game down in the red zone,” Rivera said. “Today we came out and did a lot more balance and it takes a little more pressure off the offense and the defense has to play the run and be more honest. I think it opened up some things for our offense.”
With the marker showing third down and the offense at the 20-yard line, Newton lined his team up but noticed something at the line. It likely would have been a delay of game in a real game, but the play clock was turned off Friday night in Bank of America Stadium.
After the audible, Newton turned right and hit running back Fozzy Whittaker with a screen pass, as the team’s No. 2 back ran into the end zone untouched for a score.
“You sit there and look at the things that go on, and we’ve given Cam the leeway that as he sees things he can make certain things (happen),” Rivera said. “He gave Fozzy a real quick signal, and Fozzy recognized it and ran the route.”
The record crowd comes as the Panthers look for an unprecedented third NFC South division title. Rivera has preached “being relevant” for years, and it manifested itself Friday in Charlotte.
“I think some of the things we’ve done in the past two seasons bodes very well for what we can become,” said Rivera, whose team travels to Buffalo Friday to play the Bills. “Again, you won’t know until you put the pads on and start playing for real. I’m pretty excited about who we can become. We’ve got to continue to work well and stay healthy.”
Remmers still fresh
Friday was a glorified practice – albeit with a full lower bowl and fireworks – but offensive tackle Mike Remmers was excited nonetheless.
Remmers sent out a tweet Friday asking fans if they were coming to Fan Fest, and afterward marveled at the size of the crowd.
“There’s so many people out here,” Remmers said. “It’s almost like it’s game time right now, and it’s just for practice.”
You can’t blame Remmers for his enthusiasm. This is his fourth NFL training camp, but first one as a starter.
“Definitely the first time I’ve been a starter starting out, and I want to keep it that way,” Remmers said. “I’ve been blessed every single day just trying to get better and keep improving. And just having a lot of fun out here.”
Remmers had played in only one regular-season game his first three seasons before the Panthers plucked him off the Rams’ practice squad last year. He ended up starting the final five regular-season games, and both playoff games, after Nate Chandler was injured.
While most of the attention has been focused on new left tackle Michael Oher, Remmers has quietly had a solid start to camp.
But he said there was nothing quiet about Friday’s atmosphere.
“Being here at home, you’re not used to it being loud when we’ve got the ball. But it was really fun,” he said. “We’re working on our calls and working on our technique. I think everyone out here did a really good job, and we got a lot better today.”
Cornerback Bene Benwikere practiced for the first time all camp Friday after tweaking his hamstring in July. Benwikere worked out for trainers in the morning and Rivera decided he would be OK to do limited work.
Shaq Thompson was back on the field after missing Wednesday’s practice and being limited Thursday with a hamstring. Defensive tackle Kawann Short (back) and tight end Ed Dickson (groin) remained out.
Veteran defensive end Charles Johnson had a day off.
▪ Panthers coach for the day (via Make-A-Wish Foundation) Braylon Beam got his own player card in a pre-practice ceremony. After practice he danced with Cam Newton, Mike Tolbert, Tre Boston, Kelvin Benjamin and other Panthers to Silento’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” song.
▪ On the first play of 1-on-1s, Kelvin Benjamin made a nice catch in the back of the end zone over Josh Norman. A couple minutes later he made a similar one, but came down out of bounds, which Norman made sure to remind him of by signaling it.
▪ After Robert Lester picked off one of his passes, No. 3 quarterback Joe Webb ran him down to prevent a pick-six. It was reminiscent to the division clincher at Atlanta last season, when Webb made a touchdown-saving tackle on Devin Hester’s 66-yard kickoff return.
▪ When reserve corner Lou Young was confused on a defensive call, veteran corner Charles Tillman ran on to the field without his helmet between plays to correct him. Tillman, like Jerricho Cotchery on offense, brings invaluable leadership skills to the secondary.
▪ Panthers coach Ron Rivera was looking forward to spending Friday night in his own bed. Rivera and his wife recently moved back into their south Charlotte home, which was badly damaged in a January fire.
▪ Linebacker Kevin Reddick laid the biggest hit of the night when he tracked running back Brandon Wegher to the sideline and lower his helmet, knocking Wegher to the ground and getting some howls from defensive players.
▪ Jerricho Cotchery had a great catch on a short touchdown pass from Newton despite having Norman draped all over him. The ball came up quickly on Cotchery but he was able to get his hands on it and secure it.
▪ Defensive end Kony Ealy had another good and bad day. He was handled easily by guard Trai Turner as he worked at defensive tackle but later, in team drills, got into the backfield and batted down a Derek Anderson pass.
Getting to know...
Center Brian Folkerts
Experience: Third season
The scoop: Folkerts, the No. 2 center behind Ryan Kalil, played in every regular-season game and both playoff games last season. He saw action as a reserve center and guard and in goalline situations. Folkerts played for Washburn University, a Division II school in Kansas known as the Ichabods. After a stint on Tampa Bay’s practice squad in 2012, Folkerts joined the Arena League with the San Jose SaberCats. Former Panthers lineman Jordan Gross nicknamed him “Caveman Center” for the long hair and bushy beard he had when he joined the Panthers.
Twitter handle: @BrianFolkerts
Recent tweet: Just saw a great indie film tonight. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Different than what I’m used to seeing, but definitely liked it.