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No-contact OTAs a hit-or-miss proposition in NFL

Carolina Panthers coach Rivera said he has to tread a fine line between following the no-contact rules for organized team activities without making his players too docile.

Mike Tomlin calls it “football in shorts.”

John Fox had another expression for organized team activities practices while he was with Carolina. To paraphrase, Fox likened the May and June sessions to football in undergarments.

But coaches – particularly those transitioning to a new coordinator like the Panthers’ Ron Rivera – want to get as much accomplished during the 10 OTA practices as possible.

What they don’t want is to get anyone hurt. Neither does the players union, which is why the collective bargaining agreement prohibits contact during OTAs.

The issue bubbled to the surface recently when Tampa Tribune reporter Roy Cummings told a Tampa-area radio station that Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano was “right on the border of getting investigated” for allowing hitting during the Bucs’ OTA sessions.

Schiano responded by saying that “99.9 percent” of the Bucs’ practice plays are permissible, allowing for exceptions when players get a little overzealous. That happened during a portion of a Bucs’ practice open to the media when a fight broke out between tackle Jeremy Zuttah and defensive tackle Akeem Spence.

The NFL does not view the issue lightly. The league stripped Seattle of two practices and a planned workout last June after determining the Seahawks had incorporated contact drills into their OTAs.

League and union officials can check practice videos or stop by practice facilities to monitor teams.

Rivera said he has to tread a fine line between following the no-contact rules without making his players too docile. During the Panthers’ OTA practice Thursday that was open to the media, safety Charles Godfrey collided with veteran wideout Steve Smith trying to break up a pass during a team drill.

Smith bounced up and was fine. But it was a little too close for comfort for Rivera.

“You want Charles Godfrey to make the play, but at the same time he’s got to be aware of Steve because Steve’s not protected in that position,” Rivera said. “So we have to be smart. And we’re trying to stress that.”

The Panthers worked on their two-minute drill last week. Rivera was most concerned about the operation of the two-minute offense – getting to the line in a hurry, calling plays from the line and so forth.

But offensive players wanted to score during the drill, and their defensive counterparts were trying to stop them.

“We had a couple near-collisions that I’ve got to get on everybody, tell them, ‘Hey, we can’t do those things. Let’s be smart about it,’ ” Rivera said. “But they want to compete. We’ve got try to get them to understand it’s not about that at this point. It’s about learning the operation of the drill.

“You as the head coach have to be on them,” Rivera added. “You have to do the best you can to get them to understand. We try to make sure our players understand the tempo of each drill and what’s expected.

“But sometimes the competitor in them will come out. It’s hard because you don’t want to take away that aggressive nature, either.”

Rolling out the green carpet: Workers were scheduled to finish re-sodding the natural grass surface at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, the first re-sodding at the stadium in eight years.

Unlike the cratered surface at Washington’s FedEx Field last season, the field at BoA Stadium looked to be in good shape. But after eight seasons the grass had become compacted, according to stadium operations director Scott Paul.

There were other contributing factors – a Kenny Chesney concert and the DNC.

“We knew what a concert and the Democratic National Convention would have done from a field impaction standpoint – and it would have been eight years,” Paul said.

President Obama’s acceptance speech was moved to Time Warner Cable Arena because of weather concerns, but trucks still had been driven on the perimeter field to unload the stage, chairs and sound system.

Paul said workers removed about 5 inches of grass and “organic matter,” taking the field down to the original sand. After the field was fumigated and the soil was sterilized, workers laser-graded it before rolling out 104,000 square feet of Bermuda grass from a sod farm in south Georgia.

Paul praised head groundskeeper Tom Vaughan and his crew for ensuring there are no field issues in Charlotte similar to what the Redskins faced. He doesn’t expect any problems with the new grass, either.

Three extra points

• A few final words on Cam Newton saying he wants to be a captain. He was not lobbying for the “C.” He was asked a question about it, and answered it – appropriately, in the eyes of linebacker and defensive captain Jon Beason.

“I like that he mentioned it because he’s saying, ‘I want to lead this team,’ ” Beason told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Friday.

Beason initially said he’d be “shocked” if Newton is not a captain in 2013, then acknowledged it will be tough to unseat Jordan Gross and Smith, who have held the two offensive captain spots for several seasons.

• Tim Tebow is still looking for work, and Charlotte-based reporter David Fleming of ESPN The Magazine reported that members of Tebow’s camp are “privately admitting that his NFL run is probably over.” Other reports suggested Tebow is not ready to head to Canada or the Arena League just yet.

I hope Tebow keeps playing, be it in Saskatchewan or Spokane. The sports world is a more interesting place with him in it.

• Gross, whose photo-bombing of Newton’s press conference broke up the monotony of OTAs, is finally on Twitter at @J2theGross. This is a good thing.

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