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Minicamp report: Heat leads to scuffles on Panthers’ practice field


The Sports Xchange

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As temperatures threatened to break a record high for a second straight day, tempers flared Wednesday at Carolina Panthers minicamp.

A couple of scuffles broke out in the 90-plus degree heat, and each included punches. Guard Amini Silatolu and linebacker Jason Trusnik got into it during the first half of practice, but they were separated quickly.

Things were much more heated when left tackle Michael Oher and defensive end Kony Ealy exchanged blows and eventually wound up on the ground between a pile of teammates who eventually helped diffuse the situation. Quarterback Cam Newton ran toward the media mugging for cameras that weren’t allowed to shoot at the time while normally reserved defensive tackle Star Lotulelei exchanged words with a few members of the offense.

“I think the heat got the best of us,” head coach Ron Rivera said afterward.

“It’ll happen, and the same thing will happen in training camp, unfortunately. We’ve been going at it now for four weeks with OTAs and now minicamp, and this was our first day we had anything. So it was, unfortunately, inevitable and I think the heat really had a little bit to do with it.”

The Oher-Ealy tussle wasn’t notable just because it broke up the monotony of minicamp. Oher, entering his seventh season, is the guy the Panthers have entrusted to protect Newton’s blind side this year. Ealy, who had an up and down rookie season, is in a four-man competition for a starting spot across from Charles Johnson.

“I don’t like the fighting, but I do like the fact that there was a standoff,” Rivera said. “Kony’s a young guy who’s learning and trying to learn how to cope and Michael’s a veteran guy. It’s kind of like the young bear poking the older bear.”

With one day left before everyone heads their separate ways until training camp, emotions won’t likely carry over to Thursday’s lighter practice. And while there are some interesting battles to look forward to in Spartanburg, Wednesday’s actual fights were a reminder of the line that Rivera doesn’t want to be crossed.

“I don’t mind the pushing and the shoving, but when you start swinging at one another, you’ve got to be careful,” Rivera said. “You’ve got to treat each other like brothers, and if you had a fight with a brother, you wouldn’t swing at him, you’d probably want to make sure you talk to your mom and dad.

“My office is open.”

–When Kelvin Benjamin slowly walked off the field with head trainer Ryan Vermillion on Tuesday, it appeared the Panthers receiver might have reinjured a strained left hamstring that kept him out for most of OTAs. He was instead having issues with his other leg.

Sometime during Tuesday’s minicamp opener, Benjamin tweaked his right hamstring. The new ailment kept him out of Wednesday’s practice, and he’ll also miss Thursday’s final session.

“I want to get back out there so bad with the guys, but everybody is just telling me, ‘Be patient, be patient,'” Benjamin said. “I’m missing the time with Cam Newton, but we’ll pick it up over this break.”

The second-year wideout suffered his first hamstring injury last month when he slipped on wet turf coming out of a cut. He missed the first seven practices of OTAs before returning last Tuesday. Benjamin claimed he’s not worried about a possible connection to his hamstring problems, but the Panthers plan to do their due diligence.

“There might be a concern,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “We’re going to go back and take a look and see if he had any issues at Florida State.”

While it’s unclear if Benjamin’s hamstrings ever flared up in college, he did play every game in his two seasons with the Seminoles. During his first year in Carolina, he missed a few practices in training camp with a knee bruise and suffered a concussion in Week 6 against the Bengals, but for the most part, he was healthy while appearing in all 16 games.

One concern some scouts had about Benjamin during the 2013 pre-draft process was his weight. When he was redshirted as a freshman at Florida State, he ballooned to 260 pounds. Currently listed at 245 pounds, Benjamin apparently tipped the scales a bit too much when the Panthers returned for offseason workouts this spring.

“(The hamstring problems) could be as simple as weight. He did come in a little bit heavy and he had to work himself into shape,” Rivera said. “So we’re going to take a look at every avenue to make sure it’s not a chronic issue with him. He’s too good a football player to have on the sideline; you’ve got to have him out on the field.”

–The list of guys sitting out with muscle injuries increased from Tuesday to Wednesday. Defensive ends Charles Johnson and Frank Alexander remained out with tweaked groins and running back Fozzy Whittaker and tight end Ed Dickson joined them on the sideline with the same problem.

“It seems to be the predominant injury right now — the nagging groins or the tweaked hammies,” Rivera said.

–Brandon Beane has become general manager Dave Gettleman’s right-hand man the past couple of years and now the Panthers have given Beane a title befitting his role.

After spending the past seven seasons as Carolina’s director of football operations, Beane was on Wednesday promoted to assistant general manager.

“Brandon is very deserving of this opportunity,” Gettleman said in a statement. “He has worked tremendously hard in helping us build this roster, and his responsibilities have increased every year he’s been here. He is smart, organized and has a knack for problem solving. I look forward to continuing to work with him.”

Beane, 38, has steadily climbed the ranks after joining the organization in 1998 as a member of the communications staff. He has since been seasoned in nearly every role a general manager needs to know, from scouting at the college and pro level to negotiations and budgets.

After Marty Hurney was let go six games into the 2012 season, Beane was named interim general manager and led the team to a 6-4 finish.

When Gettleman took over in 2013, he leaned on Beane, who knows the ins and outs of the organization perhaps better than anyone in the building. Many believe he’s being groomed to be the Panthers’ next general manager, and if Gettleman has no plans to leave any time soon, Beane will likely start getting calls from other teams.

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