Training Camp Postcard: Panthers
Posted: Tuesday August 7, 2007 7:47PM; Updated: Tuesday August 7, 2007 7:47PM
With the Panthers at tiny Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. Or, as I like to think of it: Training Camp Heaven. Wofford is 70 miles west of Charlotte on I-85, and presents all the reasons why there is something special about taking the team on the road for camp. Three pristine, Bermuda-grass fields with a stand of tall pines on two sides and a steep hillside -- where fans sit and watch -- on another. Fans, many of them young boys and girls, lined up along the fence, getting autographs after practice. It's a scene straight out of football's past. The Panthers have been coming to Wofford (alma mater of owner Jerry Richardson) for 13 years, and I hope they never stop.
As for the weather, I had been lucky. One hot (but bearable) morning in Houston and two rainy days in Florida. But a heat wave kicked off, and as I drove out of Spartanburg in mid-afternoon, I passed a digital bank thermometer that said, 105 degrees. Ouch.
Here's the Drill
1. In August, every team is on a mission, full of optimism and blind to weaknesses that outsiders see as obvious. That said, the Panthers feel they're due. A year ago, coming off an appearance in the NFC title game, the Panthers lost left tackle Travelle Wharton and middle linebacker Dan Morgan in the season's first game and quarterback Jake Delhomme for weeks 13, 14 and 15 and still managed to grind out an 8-8 record and narrowly missed the playoffs.
"We're owed a little bit of luck by the football gods, if there is such a thing, this time around,'' Panthers coach John Fox said, as he walked from the cafeteria to his temporary office.
2. It is both uplifting and terrifying to watch Morgan try to play football again after five concussions, including the one that ended his season in Week 1 last year. He was cleared by doctors to play again, finding himself not only in the midst of his own crisis but also the as poster child for every professional football player who has risked his future by taking one too many blows to the head.
"I understand why people are interested,'' Morgan says. "I realize the situation. All I know is that I feel good right now. When I don't feel good anymore, I'll know it.'' He is wearing a special prototype helmet to lessen the impact of head shots, of which there will eventually be many.
The Panthers coaching staff has been very cautious with Morgan since the start of training camp, holding him out of all contact drills. This week, he asked to get more involved and on Monday morning, played extensively in 11-on-11 team drills with some contact. He looked terrific, much like the defensive machine who made 25 tackles in the Super Bowl XXXVIII loss to New England. "There's no question, we're a much better defense with Dan than without him,'' says Fox.
However, it is unlikely that Morgan will play in the preseason opener Saturday in New Jersey against the Giants. The Panthers are delaying full contact as long as possible.
3. In my next life, I want to come back as Steve Smith, the Panthers' remarkable wideout. At 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Smith looks ordinary wandering through the cafeteria making a grilled chicken sandwich for lunch. On the field, he looks stellar, with a speed burst and body control that are almost unprecedented. "I knew he was good,'' says backup quarterback David Carr, "but watching him every day in practice, the things he does with his body are absolutely amazing.''