After three weeks of preseason practices, the Carolina Panthers’ defensive players will hear the call quarterbacks Cam Newton or Derek Anderson makes at the line of scrimmage and know what play is coming.
The same thing is true when a Panthers offensive lineman hears middle linebacker Luke Kuechly screaming out a check or formation.
But during a couple of joint practices with the Titans this week in Nashville, Panthers coach Ron Rivera hopes ignorance is bliss.
“Now we’re practicing against guys that have no idea,” Rivera said. “I think it goes a little bit better with the flow.”
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After packing up and coming home from Spartanburg on Sunday, the Panthers are hitting the road again. They’ll practice Wednesday and Thursday mornings at the Titans’ facility ahead of the teams’ exhibition game Saturday at Nissan Stadium.
I think it’s a real good way to get a good measuring stick on your team, other than just playing in the games. You get an extended look.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, on the benefit of joint practices with the Tennessee Titans
The Panthers held joint practices with the Dolphins two years ago at Wofford, and Rivera liked what his players and staff took from them.
“I thought we learned a little bit about our football team,” he said. “I think it’s a real good way to get a good measuring stick on your team, other than just playing in the games. You get an extended look.”
Rivera said he and Titans coach Mike Mularkey talked during the offseason about bringing their teams together for work before their exhibition.
Rivera emphasized these will be controlled drills this week, meaning defenders are not supposed to put big hits on receivers or ball-carriers or tackle them to the ground.
But there will be 180 players on the Titans’ three practice fields this week, many battling for starting positions or roster spots.
It’s going to be hot. It’s going to be humid.
Invariably, some players are going to lose their cool.
“I think that’s pretty safe to say,” Panthers safety Colin Jones said.
Containing the extracurriculars
The Panthers’ practices with the Dolphins in 2015 didn’t feature much in the way of extracurricular activity, in part because Rivera and then-Miami coach Joe Philbin vowed to toss any players who fought out of drills for the day.
“The whole focus is the practice. It’s not to get into ... anything like that,” Rivera said. “I’ve talked with coach Mularkey and we’re going to do the best we can to contain that.”
Mularkey said he’s looking forward to the Titans’ offense working against the Panthers’ four-man defensive front after facing Tennessee’s three-man look throughout training camp. He also said the Panthers’ overall is approach is similar to the Titans’.
“It’ll be very competitive, very competitive,” Mularkey told reporters. “They’ve been told we’re not having anything after the whistle.”
Rivera called it a great opportunity for his players to work against a different team and for his coaches to evaluate.
He believes the rewards of the joint practices far outweigh any injury risks. “We get out here and there’s a risk of injury any time of the day,” Rivera said.
To Rivera’s point: When the Panthers lost No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a season-ending knee injury during the Dolphins’ practices two years ago, it came during a 1-on-1 drill when there was no contact on the play.
What to expect from Cam Newton
But given the cautious approach the Panthers have taken with Newton since his shoulder setback after the first week of training camp, it seems unlikely the 2015 league MVP will be heavily involved in this week’s practices.
Rivera continues to say he’s following the advice of the team’s doctors and trainers when it comes to Newton.
The Titans will be without rookie wideout Corey Davis: The first-round pick has been sidelined with a hamstring injury.
But the Panthers’ defenders will get an opportunity to go against Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft. That will be old hat for Carolina outside linebacker Shaq Thompson, who faced Mariota and his Oregon team all three years Thompson played at Washington.
“I know the guy. He’s a mobile quarterback. I know he can throw on the run. He’s not just a typical quarterback,” Thompson said. “He’s a fast quarterback. You just can’t let him get out of the pocket or it’s going to be over. The guy’s mobile.”
Mariota and the other quarterbacks will be protected from taking any hits – at least until Saturday’s game.
Aside from the QBs, the Panthers say it will be good to hit someone other than teammates – and face players who don’t know what’s coming.