With the start of preseason drawing near, and cuts coming closer and closer, tempers are flaring up at training camps across the NFL between players competing for a paycheck. Those intensities continued at Carolina Panthers camp when, at practice on Tuesday morning, the Panthers decided to have a brawl that would make Monday Night Raw proud.
Coach Ron Rivera referred to a protracted dust-up as a “small melee,” and some of his biggest stars were involved.
According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, the fun began when safety D.J. Campbell hit tight end Greg Olsen near the sideline, and Olsen popped up and threw the ball back at him. Then a few cornerbacks went back and forth with wide receiver Brandon LaFell, and then defensive end Greg Hardy mixed it up with right tackle Byron Bell, though that ended when diminutive wide receiver Steve Smith tossed the 6-foot-4, 290-pound Hardy to the ground.
That’s their best football player (Smith), and three other hard-to-replace starters, including their next two receiving targets and a double-digit sack guy. Naturally, Rivera was not pleased in seeing his key players risking injury to slap each other.
“I think we’re getting to the point where we can’t wait to play against somebody else. It was disappointing that it lingered and it lasted as long as it did,” Rivera said. “I’m not saying it was good, but it was good to see the guys have a little bit of attitude about things. But we do most certainly want to save those for Friday [against the Bears], and we don’t want to do it against our own teammates. . . ”
“The bottom-line thing we all have to understand is at the end of the day we need the best 53. We need a healthy 53. And we can’t afford to have anybody that we really, truly need to get caught up in something like this.”
Expect to see more of these stories as training camp/preseason battles get more and more tense this August.