With helicopters buzzing over Bank of America Stadium and police lining the sidewalks and adjacent practice fields Sunday afternoon, Panthers receiver Steve Smith was taken back to his childhood.
They got the helicopters, just like back home in L.A. during the daytime. So Im real familiar with this, Smith said. Policemen walking around, doesnt bother me one bit.
Just as the Democratic National Convention is gearing up this week, the Panthers are getting out.
The Panthers could have remained in Charlotte throughout the DNC, but with increased security at the stadium where President Barack Obama will deliver his acceptance speech Thursday night team officials decided to avoid the headaches and hassles and head south early.
The Panthers will practice in Charlotte on Tuesday before taking off for Bradenton, Fla., for the rest of the week leading to their Week 1 game at Tampa Bay. Their headquarters will be IMG Academies, a sprawling complex where each of the Panthers last two first-round picks quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly trained before the draft.
Though theyll have to leave their homes and families for nearly a week, Panthers players are trying to put a positive spin on the trip, comparing it to a college game or an abbreviated training camp.
Were doing a good job of leaving the madness. And its going to be like camp, linebacker Jon Beason said. Guys are staying in a hotel, you have a lot of down time to spend with each other, so there are benefits with that.
Much like Spartanburg, the Panthers training camp home, Beason said, there should be minimal distractions in Bradenton.
Theres not much to do in Bradenton, said Beason, a Miami native. I think the biggest benefit is spending time with each other, have players-only meetings, watch film. And then the weather, I think its going to be a little humid.
So getting out there and having a whole week of practice and getting used to what that Sunday is going to feel like, versus getting off the bus and all of a sudden that Tampa weather hits you.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera talked to his team about not using the trip as an excuse for a poor performance or lack of execution in the opener against the Buccaneers.
I told them after everything we talked about as far as traveling and leaving and the DNC no excuses. Thats not acceptable. We cant accept that, were not going to accept that, Rivera said.
This can be a rallying cry, Rivera added. It can be an opportunity to get away and focusing on an opponent, on football. Itll be fun to see how we handle things and how it all develops for us.
When the DNC clears out, the Panthers will have to re-sod a portion of the field. But team officials are confident the field will be ready for the Sept. 16 home opener against New Orleans.
Were prepared. We knew were going to have to re-sod part of the field and well make that determination after its over, team president Danny Morrison said. But most of it will be on the perimeter.
Smith said he likes that Charlotte is hosting the DNC, but hes not sad to miss it.
I think its great for our city, for our town, Smith said. But for us, theres a lot of security and a lot of red tape to go through. So Im glad coach Rivera had the foresight to be proactive and not reactive.