Something had been missing in many of the early Carolina Panther practices this season.
Namely, the trash talk.
For the previous eight seasons, quarterback Cam Newton had greatly enjoyed bantering with whatever defensive player decided to engage with him.
Linebacker Thomas Davis played the role of Newton’s foil the most often. Cornerback Josh Norman brought the running repartee to its most furious level – a startling training-camp fight with his own quarterback in 2015 when a verbal battle turned physical.
But the 2019 team really didn’t have a “DTT” – designated trash-talker – on hand until Carolina signed safety Tre Boston at the beginning of August.
And now, as was clearly exhibited in the Panthers’ practice Sunday afternoon in Charlotte, Cam has a foil once again.
“I’m just doing my little spiel,” Boston told the Observer on Sunday after a workout in which he and Newton yelled back and forth at least a dozen times in the final hour.
The yelling was good-natured, but it also provided what Boston called “the juice” to a practice that seemed mundane until their verbal jousting began.
Once the screaming started, though, it quickly escalated.
Boston began yelling, “Yeah! Hell yeah!” after every Newton incompletion in team drills. Newton likewise celebrated all of his big completions with similar yells -- especially after one in which Boston was left somersaulting in the dust on a 50-yard Newton touchdown bomb to Aldrick Robinson.
“That’s one play of like 20,” Boston said later, shrugging off the mistake. “We’ll let them have that one; we’ve got to give them something. You can’t rub it in their faces.”
Newton wasn’t available after practice to talk to reporters about his friendly rivalry with Boston or anything else. In the past eight months, he has spoken to the local media only once. But during that group interview on Aug. 1, Newton had been asked about the perception that he had been quieter throughout training camp during this 2019 preseason.
“Half of it, man, is ain’t nobody talking to me,” Newton said. He went on to point out that a respected veteran like Gerald McCoy “don’t really talk in practice.”
Linebacker Luke Kuechly, the most natural foil for Newton as the team’s franchise defensive player, rarely does much talking in practice, either -- other than telling his teammates where to line up. The same goes for other well-known veteran players such as defensive tackle KK Short, defensive ends Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin, linebacker Shaq Thompson or safety Eric Reid.
Boston – a former UNC player and a Panther from 2014-16 who is back for his second stint with the team -- noticed all this and decided to do something. Naturally verbose and easy to spot with the dreadlocks flowing out of his helmet, Boston decided he’d amp up his own volume even more and take over the role of DTT if no one else was planning to give it a go.
“It gets us going, and it gets Cam going,” said Boston, leaving no doubt that the needle he keeps sticking into Newton has a larger purpose. “We need juice everywhere to build the competition. ... So whether that’s talking trash or just doing what you need to do with the plays, we’re just trying to have fun.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, a former NFL linebacker himself, believes there is some value in letting players “chirp” at each other. Rivera hates fighting in practice and will bounce players from field for doing so. But as long as the jesting doesn’t get to the Newton-Norman level of physicality it did four years ago, players have a fairly long leash.
“It’s one of those things,” Rivera said Sunday. “The biggest thing we’ve got to remember is the Panthers are not on the Panthers’ schedule.”
In other words, there’s a fine line, and you can’t hurt your teammates. But it always feels more electric – like there is more at stake -- when Newton is jawing at somebody on defense. And often, Newton seems to play better when he’s doing so.
At one point Sunday, Newton and Boston were both on the sidelines, about 20 yards away from each other as the backups finished up practice.
Newton just kept going on about the deep ball he had completed over Boston’s head, and how that should quiet Boston down for awhile.
“I’m just glad you’re listening to me!” Boston said.