Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera wanted to practice in the elements. He got the elements.
For the first time in Rivera’s five-year tenure as coach, the Panthers practiced in a wintry mix of snow and sleet Friday in preparation for a cold NFC Championship Game Sunday against the Cardinals.
“(Defensive end) Mario Addison said it best,” Rivera said, “the elements may change but we don’t. We don’t change who we are.”
The practice was still lively. A handful of players – such as safety Dean Marlowe and guard Andrew Norwell – went sleeveless for practice. Cornerback Josh Norman playfully threw a snowball at a reporter. A few even made snow angels.
The Panthers still stretched and danced to a rap song, and the tempo was so good the Panthers finished 19 minutes early.
“It doesn’t hurt when part of the motivating factor is to practice fast so you can get off the field and get back inside where it’s warm,” Rivera said. “But they did a nice job.”
Rivera said the receivers did not drop a single pass out of the 22 or 23 thrown Friday.
Practice was moved up 45 minutes to 10:15 a.m. on Friday to beat some of the heavier snow and sleet. The team practiced on the field turf rather than natural grass because grass would have been too wet.
The Panthers, like the Cardinals, will likely wear the seven-stud, five-eighths-inch cleats, which are made for soft, wet fields, on Sunday.
The plan is for the Bank of America Stadium grounds crew to take the tarp off the field Saturday afternoon and let the air dry the field in the 24 hours leading up to kickoff. Scott Paul, the team’s executive director of stadium operations, expects the field to be wet but said that’s what you deal with in January.
“You’re going to play in these types of conditions. That’s football,” Rivera said. “I thought our crew did a nice job. I believe if you wear the proper cleats you should be fine. And I suspect what will happen is, Arizona will come here and do their pregame and they’ll come out with two or three different pairs of shoes to figure out which will be the best. That’s what our guys will do on Sunday.
“I know our receivers will take two or three different types of shoes out there, run around and see which one feels the best. That’s what you should do. That’s what we used to do back in the day and shoot that was 30 years ago.”