Breaking with tradition, the Carolina Panthers will hold a free and open practice on Thursday, June 14th, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:20 p.m. in Bank of America Stadium. Fans are welcome to come to the non-contact practice, although there will not be a chance to get auotographs.
The extra chance for fans to see the Panthers in their home stadium was head coach Ron Rivera's idea, and I believe it's an excellent one. He wants his players -- the new ones especially -- to get a feel for the B of A stadium atmosphere. The practice will be their final one of a mandatory three-day minicamp next week (players will then be off until reporting to Spartanburg and Wofford College for training camp on Friday, July 27th).
"We sure would love our fans to come out," Rivera said of the open practice next week in Charlotte. "... It will give our players a chance to get inside the stadium and kind of introduce them to the stadium and the fans of Charlotte."
The practice will be a no-frills affair, unlike FanFest (which is scheduled this year for Saturday, Aug.4th). The Panthers always bring out the bells and whistles for their annual FanFest -- cheerleaders, the Sir Purr mascot, games for the kids outside and so on.
This one will have no cheerleaders, no mascots, no games outside -- just a practice. And, again, no autographs, the team says. The team does plan to make limited concessions available.
The June 14th practice will give Panther fans a chance to see the new version of their team six weeks earlier than usual. The team has traditionally not opened any practices to fans until late July in Spartanburg, when all training-camp practices are free and open to the public at Wofford.
As for Thursday's workout, Rivera said: "Fans will see what they would see if they came up to Wofford, but there will be no contact.... We traditionally have never practiced in our stadium until we get to FanFest, and then we get our first preseason game. It’s an opportunity for our guys to get on the field… So the first time we do it so we’re not in awe.
"As for our fans," Rivera continued, "we know not everybody can get down to Wofford from Charlotte. So if our fans want to come out, great. We’d love to have 'em. But the biggest thing is to create the atmosphere of our stadium for our guys."
In other Panther news Thursday:
-- Linebacker Jon Beason looked strong in his limited work and told me afterward, jokingly, he feels "150 percent, maybe 149."
-- I will be writing about Haruki Nakamura, who is competing for a starting safety job against Sherrod Martin and others, for Friday's newspaper and online. Beason told me that Nakamura "kind of reminds me of [former Panther safety] Chris Harris but with a lot more ability."
Fun fact about Nakamura: he was a national judo champ in the junior division as a kid. (UPDATE: Here's the link to the Nakamura story).