Every year I remind you all that I am a big picture guy. I am not one to be bogged down by minutia, nay,I rise above and see things with great clarity and alacrity. I am like an antennae that picks up on the vibes of camp, both on the field and off. I am the camp whisperer.
On the drive down to Spartanburg from Charlotte, my resolve was immediately tested. A recreational vehicle apparently was rigged to completely shut down traffic through years of neglect and the burning of hundreds of gallons of oil.
(note to self, clean bird crap off windshield.)
When I arrived at camp, aside from the heat I noticed the crowd. I thought to myself, the stakes are raised. This was the most crowded day 1 of camp I had witnessed, including 2004 the first camp after Superbowl. The Cam effect?
As I walked around the crowd I noticed it was very much a gameday atmosphere complete with fans tailgating in the parking areas. There were many pre-practice festivities including an appearance by the topcats and the fine people of purrcussion.
Good times, Good times.
I made my way to the media room after being handed the nicest credential and those things that hold credentials, you know, the necklace looking thing. I have a collection of them, and this one rivals the speedo one I got when shooting the swimming olympic trials two years ago.
Then I saw the media guide, which is the best yet. I believe these are for sale at camp, and they are a must have for any die hard Panthers fan. Full of facts and stats.
Again, these are small details, but they do speak volumes. The stakes are raised.
On the way down I noticed the fan wall. A nice touch this year for everyone to sign. I chatted with Catman for a second who just coincidentally signing the board. Its a good photo op for anyone attending camp.
So I head down to the practice field as the players begin to make their way as well. I run into Jon Beason on the way down who greets me with a fist bump. It is great to see Beason on the field again, not only because of his physical abilities, but his effect on the team psyche as a whole. He just makes everyone around him better.
The individual drills start and I notice a new one. I am always interested in new drills, what they do and how they were chosen. Time is at a premium in camp, it is highly orchestrated. For a new drill to make the field practice, it must be important.
This drill involved two large rings in a figure eight. Wide receivers were asked to run the eight pattern as fast as they could.
It reminds me of NASCAR, when the cars are defying gravity going up the wall. These players are able to lean and dig while maintaining a high velocity. One can imagine how this drill will help in running more precise and crisp routes.
The players started stretching and Syeve Smith, the now veteran mentor of the offense, took the time to show Brandon LaFell a proper leg stretch. Overlooked by many, but I found it telling.
The players were not in pads, so contact was minimal. Without contact, one cannot start to really see how things are shaping up. Amazing defensive or offensive plays while exciting, may not happen when the pads are on and the blocking/tackling/hitting starts.
As the practice progressed, a few things struck me.
Joe Adams is our new punt returner. I know, not a shock. Most rookies on the first day of camp drop plenty of punts. Armanti Edwards dropped his first seven or eight if memory serves. Joe caught nearly all the punts, watching the ball every time all the way into his chest. A good sign. This kid gets it.
First round pick Kuechly is as fluid a linebacker as I have seen. I don't agree with the Dan Morgan comparisons. I don't feel Kuechly is as fast, but he seems to be more agile. He runs like a running back.
Josh Norman got in plenty of time with the first string defense. For any rookie to get in that much time with a first string speaks volumes. The kid can ball, and will make an immediate impact.
The starting D
As far as the offense goes, it looked as dynamic as last season. Again, with no hitting it was hard to really say who had the better day, offense or defense. Some standout performances on the offense included Cam Newton who reminded the crowd he doesn't only throw. And Jonathan Stewart who was actually practicing on the first day of camp. When was the last time that happened?
So on the first day of camp, I take in all the little things. I process them overnight and decide the next morning what this 2012 team is all about.
The tone is optimistic and light hearted, but not too relaxed like last season's camp. There is now a confidence with the swagger that Cam has brought to the team. Is it over confidence? I don't believe so. These guys know they are good. They know with the talent on the field anything less than a playoff birth is a failure. So when people ask you around the water cooler this month what you think about the Panthers team, give them this reply.
The stakes are higher, and they know it.
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