Trim the roster to the NFL-mandated 53 players? Check. Sign seven to the practice squad? Check. Get wide receiver Steve Smith and linebacker Jon Beason back to practice so they can be ready for the season opener this Sunday? Check and check. Go through normal practices to prepare for a road game? Better uncheck that box.
Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera knew there would be a big distraction at the end of training camp––a little thing called the Democratic National Convention. It is taking over the city of Charlotte, so getting ready for the Buccaneers in Tampa is anything but normal.
“I told them as far as traveling and leaving and the DNC and all this stuff, no excuses,” said Rivera. “It is not acceptable [to] say we were supplanted because of this. We can’t accept that, we won’t accept that. We’re going out to do the best we can.”
Carolina has to cut the usual preparation for a road game short because President Barack Obama and friends are taking over the town and the Panthers’ home, Bank of American Stadium, so the team left on Tuesday, the day the convention opened.
Despite having to pack up and leave earlier than usual, there is something good that could come out of the extra practice away from home. Some players compare it to something they did in college, while Rivera thinks it could help his team over the course of the season.
“It’s definitely different,” Rivera said. “A lot of guys said to me, ‘Hey coach, it’s like going to a bowl game.’ I said I didn’t know because I didn’t go to one. Keep rubbing it in (laughing). A lot of guys are taking that approach. It’s a good thing. At least they have the right attitude, the right frame of mind and as we go away the main focus and the main purpose is to get ready for a football game.”
Rivera also said that this could be a great opportunity for the Panthers, a rallying cry if you will, to get away and focus on an opponent and football. “I think the attitude is about coming together so it will be fun to see how we handle things and how it develops for us.”
Before leaving on their extended Florida trip, the Panthers got a pair of veteran leaders back on the field with Steve Smith coming back from foot infection and John Beason out with a hamstring problem. Smith missed the last two weeks while Beason missed the entire preseason.
Smith, who is entering his 12th season with Carolina, caught 79 passes for 1,394 yards in 2011 averaging just under 18-yards a catch. The former third round pick out of Utah in 2001 was kept out of the final two preseason games as a precaution and picked up as if he had not missed any time.
“It was good to have Steve back,” said the head coach. “Right off the bat he went back to his normal practice mode, 100 percent all the time so it was a lot of fun watching [him] back on the football field, that’s for sure.”
“There was a little bit of nervousness,” Smith said. “With an infection you’re just not sure how your body is going to react to the medication. I’m playing catch-up, probably the first time I have had to [do that].”
Beason was a first-round pick by Carolina, 25th overall, from Miami (FL) in 2007 and has made the Pro Bowl three times as well as being named a First Team All-Pro in 2008. The 27-year old played in all 16 games his first four seasons with Carolina but tore his left Achilles tendon in last year’s opener, a 28-21 loss to the Cardinals, and missed the rest of the season.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.