This is how the Carolina Panthers’ training camp works, which works for me.
A player I’ve never heard of, from a school I’ve never heard of, that’s in a state I’ve never heard of, will make a series of good to great catches, or prevent a Carolina receiver from making a catch. He’ll get to the quarterback as if propelled, or regularly stop defenders from getting to the quarterback. I’ll pull the oft folded and unfolded roster from my back pocket, unfold it and look up his number. OK, he’s 110, and he shares the number with a player on the other side of the ball. I’ll write about the guy. Coaches will tell me nice things about him.
On the first day of September, when general managers and coaches reduce the roster from 90 to 53 players, he’ll be cut.
Before camp closes, I’ll ask Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera who his Spartanburg most valuable player is. Rivera will be excited as he talks about the player.
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On the first day of September, he’ll be cut.
I’ll identify the last player to leave camp. Long after teammates have rushed to the locker room, and up Interstate 85, this player still will be on the field. The last time I wrote about the last player, he was on his back catching with one hand passes fired at him by equipment department employees.
The Panthers couldn’t cut a deal with the player so they essentially cut him. Cornerback Josh Norman now plays for Washington.
I’ll pick a day at random and note the last player to walk the hill to Carolina’s locker room, signing as the sweat rolls off his face, careful not to smudge the signatures he’s offered. On the day I chose, linebacker Luke Kuechly was the final player to sign autographs. Waiting at the top of the hill were two security guards. When Kuechly finally finished, he apologized to the guards for making them wait.
Kuechly still plays for the Panthers.
I think training camp is a gift from the team to its fans. Yes, it’s an especially hot gift. The training camp temperature always feels as if it’s hovering at about 98 degrees.
I’d bring binoculars and focus on the players you like, the players you want to like and the eight new draft picks. I’d watch wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who was injured as a rookie most of last season. I expected Curtis to be very good, and still do.
Autographs are easier to get than they are at any other time. I don’t believe in autographs for adults, however, unless they’re fetching autographs for a kid or kids. If I ruled the world, nobody could ask a player younger than they are for a signature.
Yeah, Julius Peppers (38), Mike Adams (37), Thomas Davis (35), Greg Olsen (33), Ryan Kalil (33) and J.J. Jansen (32) would attract a crowd. But they’ve been around awhile. They’d handle it.
If the Panthers are your team, you learn at training camp, or at least get a feel for, how the free agents and rookies fit with the returnees. By the time camp breaks, you have an idea how effective the team will be.
Maybe an unheralded player will jump out for you. Maybe he won’t be cut.