The last time Panthers coaches implored players to ratchet up the intensity at a training camp practice, quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Josh Norman ended up in a heap on the ground.
Having already had an in-house fight, the Panthers will try to avoid brawling with another team’s players when the Dolphins come to Wofford for two full-pads practices Wednesday and Thursday.
With the elimination of two-a-day sessions and the addition of more off days in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, more teams are scheduling joint practices to increase the competition and get their players ready for the start of the regular season.
The trick is going through spirited drills without things erupting into the melee that marred the Washington-Houston joint practices two weeks ago in Richmond, Va.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he and Dolphins coach Joe Philbin will watch for players whose tempers are beginning to flare and try to “nip it in the bud.”
But Panthers defensive end Frank Alexander concedes it could be hard for guys to keep their cool in the Spartanburg humidity. Alexander speaks from experience: He was ejected from a 2013 loss to Seattle after throwing punches at Seahawks offensive tackle Breno Giacomini.
“In the heat of the moment, you never know what your reaction’s going to be. You can plan not to be in one of those altercations or whatever. But you never know,” Alexander said. “The heat has something to do with it. And you’ve been grinding all training camp. It’s a whole list of things that can take place.”
Seven joint practices have been held this summer, including the Panthers-Dolphins. Other than the fights that ended the Washington-Houston practice early and a minor skirmish at the Cleveland-Buffalo practice Monday, calmer heads have prevailed.
Linebacker Jason Trusnik, who spent four seasons in Miami before signing with Carolina in the offseason, said nobody wants to have a player get injured during a fracas.
“I think Philbin does a good job down there. He runs a good ship, wants to take care of his guys. He doesn’t want guys coming up here and getting hurt,” Trusnik said. “They’re going to work. Same thing here: We’re going to work. It’s just taking care of each other and let’s put in a couple good days of work together and hopefully we’ll both benefit from it.”
Rivera said there will be eight officials overseeing 180 players on Wofford’s two main practice fields. The coaches also will try to make sure the action doesn’t get out of hand.
“They’ll manage the whistles and if anything’s going to start, we’ll nip it in the bud. And if we have to take guys off the field, we’re going to do that,” Rivera said. “The idea is to work. It’s not to come here and have a big scrum.”
Rivera said the teams will do position work separately before getting together for 1-on-1 drills and scrimmage situations. Rivera said there will be live contact up front, but defenders are not supposed to take ball-carriers to the ground.
And the guys in the red jerseys — Newton and Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill — are off-limits.
“You respect everybody’s career. You don’t want to just tee off on their guys just because it’s a different person in the red jersey,” Alexander said. “It’s just a level of professionalism that you want to portray.”
Gil Brandt, the former Dallas personnel director, said joint practices were common in the 1960s when the Cowboys and four other teams trained within 60 to 90 minutes of each other in southern California.
“We called it a four-ring circus,” said Brandt, who was at Panthers camp Tuesday with SiriusXM NFL Radio. “As much as we disliked George Allen and the Rams, we scrimmaged them about four times.”
Brandt said he’s glad to see joint practices becoming popular again and thinks they help teams avoid the end-of-camp doldrums.
“Instead of practicing against yourself days nine and 10, it gets dead as all heck,” Brandt said. “Now all of a sudden you’re seeing new things, new ideas. So I think it’s great.”
What won’t be great is having a brawl erupt or seeing someone take a cheap shot at one of the team’s marquee players.
Newton has a bit of a history with Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who’s been suspended three games for two incidents in which he stepped on the arm or leg of an opposing player.
Newton referred to Suh as “Donkey Kong,” the gorilla from the video game by the same name, five times last fall before the Panthers played Detroit in Week 2, then later apologized for it.
Panthers receiver Corey Brown said he’d forgotten about Newton’s comments but joked that he would remind Newton of them before Suh arrives on Wofford’s campus.
“I don’t have to deal with (Suh),” Brown said, smiling. “So that’s good.”