When the Panthers travel to Buffalo on Friday for their first exhibition, they’ll face a player who made training camp easier last year on kicker Graham Gano and punter Brad Nortman.
The Panthers had Jordan Gay on their camp roster last summer to keep some of the wear and tear off Gano and Nortman. When Carolina waived him in the first round of cuts, Gay found work as the Bills’ kickoff specialist.
The third specialist this year lasted only until Aug. 5, when the Panthers cut former Michigan punter Matt Wile to make roster space to sign a defensive tackle after Star Lotulelei’s foot injury.
Both Gano and Nortman said coaches have been careful with their reps to keep their legs fresh for the season. Rather than have Gano or Nortman kick during a special teams drill, coaches some days use the JUGS machine to launch balls at the returners.
Gano compared it to a pitcher in baseball on a pitch count.
“They can’t pitch every single day. You’ve got to take care of your arm. So they have their off days. They keep their arm fresh,” Gano said Wednesday. “So it’s the same with us. We’re going to be at our best when our legs are fresh.”
Nortman knows from experience the negative effects of kicking too much. He wore out midway as a rookie in 2012 under the heavy workload of former special teams coordinator Brian Murphy, who was fired during the season.
“The coach at the time thought more volume was better than less volume,” said Nortman, who felt like he’d lost the power in his right leg during the season’s final two months. “You just know that come November or December, if you over-kick now you’re just going to be totally in the tank at that point.”
Both Nortman and Gano are healthy heading into the final week of camp.
Gano battled a lower back issue throughout 2014 after getting injured while training. He said he was smarter with his workouts this past offseason, and credited special teams coaches Bruce DeHaven and Russ Purnell for a implementing a good mix of kicking, weightlifting and other drills.