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Panthers adjust routine to curb preseason injuries

By Jonathan Jones
jjones@charlotteobserver.com

The Panthers had a franchise-record 16 players go on the injured reserve in 2011, and they followed up this past season by tying the mark.

After two rough preseasons with more injuries than he’d like, third-year Panthers coach Ron Rivera has made slight adjustments to this year’s training camp schedule in an effort to avoid getting an early start to the injury list.

“The biggest thing is restructuring the way we’re doing this year, trying to create much more time for these guys to get off their feet,” Rivera said. “You probably hear me yelling every time we get into a walkthrough period or we’re changing to one side of the field or the other about the trainers watering them down.”

Along with constant hydration reminders, the Panthers stretch before and after each practice, with position groups taking turns lifting weights after practice each day.

Another change is bed check. In the 10- to 15- minute window before curfew last year, players were required to be either in their rooms or in a common area. Now, in an effort to ensure they get more rest off their feet, the coaches require the players to be in their rooms.

The Panthers have practiced twice in full pads so far, allowing the players to be more physical with one another. Wide receiver David Gettis took his time getting up Sunday when he laid out for a pass and cornerback Josh Norman fell on top of him. On Monday, rookie safety Robert Lester had the wind knocked out of him after hitting the ground in pass coverage.

Veteran linebacker Chase Blackburn said in training camp it’s difficult to get back in the flow of tackling for fear of injuring yourself or a teammate.

“That’s what four preseason games are for. You can tackle in those games and you get enough reps to get it going,” Blackburn said. “Last couple days in individual (drills) we’ve worked on tackling and ball stripping and things like that. In your individual periods where you get that wrap up, kind of bring your hips (around). You don’t want to give your guys too much threat of injury when you do that. As much as you want to wrap it, it’s just not worth it as a team.”

Several big names around the league have been injured and will sit out the 2013 season after just a week into training camp. Denver center Dan Koppen (ACL), Philadelphia receiver Jeremy Maclin (ACL) and Baltimore tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) had their season end before a preseason game snap.

“They’re fluke things. They just happen,” said Rivera regarding the high-profile NFL injuries. “So you hope you’re not a victim of it. We’ll keep our fingers cross. We’ll keep working hard. Hopefully we’ll have some luck this year.

“It’s been tough the first two years with the amount of injuries we’ve had. You’d like to get out of camp with a minimal number so going into the season you’re healthy.”

In 2011, Gettis tore his ACL in training camp and had to sit the entire year after a 2010 season where he was the team’s second-leading receiver with 37 catches for 508 yards. He was joined on the IR by veteran defensive tackle Ron Edwards, who tore his triceps early in camp.

No starting Panthers were injured during last year’s training camp, but the team did hold linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis to limited participation as they both were recovering from injuries. Camp this year is no different, with Beason relegated to watching practices and Davis competing only in individual drills.

Running back Jonathan Stewart is the only Panthers on the physically unable to perform list as he continues to recover from offseason ankle surgery. Reserve linemen Edmund Kugbila (hamstring) and Jeff Byers (knee) were on exercise bikes Monday.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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