Cam Newton, shown here in a file photo, was among those who attended workouts Tuesday. (AP Photo)
CHARLOTTE – More than 50 players, including quarterback Cam Newton, participated in a two-hour non-contact practice and a 90-minute team meeting Tuesday morning at Charlotte Christian High School in South Charlotte.
Jordan Gross, who co-organized the two-week voluntary camp along with fellow offensive lineman Travelle Wharton, said he was impressed by the turnout.
“I’m not taking roll call or anything, but that’s a great turnout -- probably one of the better responses in the league,” Gross said. “We have a lot of guys who want to do the right thing. I think coming off a 2-14 season where there was certainly a lot of frustration followed by a coaching change, that’s a pretty good turnout.”
Media and fans were barred from attending the event.
The players went as far to hire a police officer to shoo away folks at the entrance to the school. Other entrances to the school were blocked off and the field, located in the back and surrounding by trees, could not be seen from the street. The media will be allowed to attend the final practice session on June 9 and conduct interviews, but Gross said right now everyone is being kept away to eliminate distractions.
There’s also the touchy matter of guys with uncertain futures with the team – Steve Smith, Charles Johnson, Matt Moore, DeAngelo Williams and Thomas Davis among them – not wanting word to leak out as to whether they participated in the practices. Gross wouldn't say if any of those veteran players participated.
“We wanted to have it so we could workout without any pressure on who’s there and who isn’t there, or how somebody looked running the ball or what a quarterback’s completion percentage was,” Gross said.
Gross said Newton, the team’s first overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, did participate along with Jimmy Clausen, who went 1-9 as the team’s starting quarterback last season.
“I think it’s great that (Newton) showed up,” Gross said. “He was out there working with some of the young receivers. He participated and is just listening in the meetings, going about things like a pro. He’s not trying to beat the world or anything like that. He’s just trying to fit in.”
Because of the ongoing NFL lockout, players aren’t allowed to have contact with teams and vice versa.
Players from teams around the league have organized similar camps and run drills. In fact, the Panthers are the last of the NFC South teams to conduct such workouts.
The first portion of the practice, which was primarily dedicated to cardio training and conditioning work with the focus on building and strengthening core muscles, was run by trainer Cheyenne Pietri and some of his staff from Velocity Sports Performance based in Charlotte. In the days to come, players will participate in some weightlifting on the field, although Gross said nobody will be trying to break any world records.
“We want to make sure guys are in shape, but we don’t want to get anyone injured out here,” Gross said.
The Panthers didn’t run through any plays on Tuesday, even though they have access to the team’s playbook. Some players, including Newton, were given playbooks when the lockout was briefly lifted for a couple days in April. Gross said some copies of that playbook were distributed, but that the players don’t plan on running any scripted plays or "team drills" against a defense.
Tuesday was all about basics.
Quarterbacks threw some passes to receivers and handing off, while almost everybody else worked on conditioning and staying in shape. After the workouts, players spent about 90 minutes meeting in a classroom to go over the playbook. The players participated in shorts and t-shirts and there were not contact drills.
As much as anything, Gross said, the two-week camp is about developing some camaraderie.
“We’ve had some turnover since January, so it’s good for guys to get together and shake hands and touch base and get on the same page,” Gross said.
“It's been so long," running back Jonathan Stewart wrote on Twitter. "Time to get better!"
Added offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz wrote on Twitter: "It was a great morning of team activities."
No team needs to improve more than the Panthers, who finished last season with an NFL-worst 2-14 record.
“I think this shows guys are willing to work hard and do what it takes to get better,” Gross said.