SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- About 45 minutes into Monday morning's practice at Wofford College, the action suddenly came to a halt.
Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, making his first appearance at training camp, stopped warmups and called the players together at midfield for a talk. Wearing dark pants, a long-sleeve white dress shirt and dark sunglasses and having lost nearly 50 pounds, Richardson addressed the team as a whole for the first time since having a heart transplant. He spoke to players for about 10 minutes and then watched the rest of practice in a golf cart alongside ex-Panther Mike Rucker.
"He just thanked the players for supporting him during tough times,” said WR Muhsin Muhammad, referring to Richardson’s ongoing recovery from heart transplant surgery. “And he talked about us getting ready for the season. It was good for him to come out and give us some encouraging words."
Coach John Fox said he knew Richardson had planned to speak at practice, but wouldn’t discuss the nature of the owner’s comments except to say, "Some things are sacred but he had some things to say.”
Like most players, LB Jon Beason didn't want to get into specifics about the talk, saying it was a team matter, but added that it was great to see the “Big Cat.”
"Basically he was saying that he feels good and he's happy just to be back and be able to come on down here and go forward," said Beason.
It's the first time Richardson has addressed this year's team collectively as a group.
When asked what it was like having Richardson back at practice, Muhammad laughed and said, “Obviously anytime he shows up guys start working (harder). It’s like the boss has walked in and people start shuffling papers, you know what I mean?
“There was some added enthusiasm in practice today for a Monday. It was good to see him because everyone knows how his health was and just assure to the players that he’s on the road to recovery, I think that did some good for everyone to hear. And then it’s always nice to hear him talk because he’s always going to say something that’s funny. And he’s going to let you know how focused he is and how focused he wants to the team to be. So it was great to see him out there.”
Several players said the message was "inspirational."
At one point during the conversation, Richardson called up DE Julius Peppers and stood beside him while he talked.
NOTABLE: The Panthers had their first “live” goal line drills Monday since the start of camp, which are always fun.
As has been the case the last three or four practices, the defense dominated an offense without its top two running backs. Rookie RB Mike Goodson ran first team.
“I think we’re doing some decent things,” Panthers QB Jake Delhomme said. “I know it’s very different defensively, going against our defense. This is something new. Certain defenses that (former defensive coordinator Mike) Trgovac would run, you kind of prepare for. But this is something new, and that’s very good. Offensively, I think we’re doing OK, but we’ve got a long way to go. But I like what I see.”
THEY SAID IT: "He's very close to a lot of football players on this football team -- extremely close. I've always said it, when an owner walks through the locker room in any other place, guys turn away or try to hide. Here, guys flock to him, and that's the honest-to-goodness truth."
--Delhomme on Richardson
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 – number of days remaining until Carolina’s preseason opener against the New York Giants.
ON THE RISE: Panthers LB Dan Connor got plenty of reps last week with Beason being out. So far, Connors has been explosive.
“He was a guy that showed really well early in camp (last year),” Fox said. “Unfortunately, he got injured early on. Last preseason we thought he was a guy that we thought showed a lot early on and he's done a great job rehabbing. That's a very hard road, and it takes tough people to do it. He's worked very hard and doing very well.”
PLAY OF THE DAY: WR Dwayne Jarrett made a nice sliding catch between two defenders in the end zone.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS: Clearly the award for loudest assistant coach of the year goes to new defensive line coach Brian Baker, who must be from the Scott O'Brien school of yelling.
“He's a good, fundamental teacher and he's done a good job,” Fox said. “Like I've said time and time again, sometimes change is good. You've got a different voice, different person, different approach. Right now the guys are responding and doing a good job.”
INJURY UPDATE: Beason said he’s expected to return for the non-padded night practice Monday after missing most of training camp with a hamstring injury.
Beason, RB DeAngelo Williams (toe), LB Thomas Davis (knee) and OG C.J. Davis (ankle) are still out. Fox said none of those injuries are serious. Peppers and WRs Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad returned to action after sitting out Fan Fest.
WHAT WE LEARNED: Someone messed with the thermometer over the weekend because it got quite a bit hotter on Monday in Spartanburg, S.C.
Still, the Panthers were ready for the hot weather.
“The league keeps us pretty educated; our medical people keep us pretty educated on how to combat heat sickness,” Fox said. “We have a halftime, just like we do in a game, and put them under a tent. We get them plenty of fluids throughout practice. Today we timed it out pretty good. It's not the heat of the day this morning and won't be the heat of the day at tonight.”
DEPTH CHART WATCH: The Panthers used second-year OG Mackenzy Bernadeau as a sixth offensive lineman in goal-line sets Monday.
ON TAP: The Panthers practice Monday night at 6:40 p.m. and again Tuesday at 3:10 p.m.