SPARTANBURG -- One of the fun parts of watching such a young team is seeing the sheer exuberance of those who just don't know any better.
So it was entertaining Saturday morning when skinny-legged, second-year running back Mike Goodson decided to take on the Carolina Panthers' best defensive player.
Goodson, one of the more ebullient Panthers, was feeling his oats. During blitz pick-up drills, he muscled up charging linebacker Quinton Culberson, holding him off just long enough for the quarterback to get the ball away. But that success wasn't enough for him. Moments later, a howl of laughter erupted from the huddle, and running backs coach Jim Skipper yelled "We've got a request."
Up stepped linebacker Jon Beason for Goodson's next turn, and Goodson fought him to the ground for a surprising win.
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"They say if you want to be the best you have to go against the best, that's what they always told me," Goodson said with a grin.
His work this offseason has helped him develop the weakest part of his game. Goodson, 6 foot and 212 pounds, rarely had to block at Texas A&M. He was split out as a receiver to take advantage of his electrifying open-field ability.
At the NFL level, guys who can't block aren't trusted enough to put on the field on passing downs, so Goodson remained a rumor for most of his rookie season.
Skipper is a stickler for blocking (it's why DeShaun Foster held a starting job over DeAngelo Williams for so long), and Goodson knows he's not going to play much until he gets better at it.
"I think being an undersized guy, not as big as most running backs, they see me and want to bull rush me or just put all their weight on me," Goodson said. "Just putting emphasis on that, I got a lot stronger this offseason. So I'm ready to make a lot of blocks."
The Panthers got their first long-term injury of camp, when receiver Charly Martin was diagnosed with a broken finger on his left hand. Coach John Fox said he knew which finger, but didn't want to share.
Martin had surgery Saturday morning in Charlotte, and Fox termed him "week-to-week." That could lead to a season on injured reserve for the second-year player who would have been on the bubble to make the team anyway.
Martin has impressed coaches with his hands, route-running and work ethic, but the Panthers have a log-jam of young wideouts and Martin needed a solid preseason to carve out his niche.
The Panthers did get linebacker Jamar Williams back after he missed two days with a hamstring strain. Defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring) and running back Tyrell Sutton (calf) remain out of practice.
Cornerback Richard Marshall was held out of the night sessions with a sore back, but it didn't appear serious. Reserve cornerback Marcus Walker was hauled off the field with a right leg injury, and the team didn't update his condition.
GETTING TO KNOW ...
Panthers safety Aaron Francisco
Background: Originally an undrafted rookie out of Brigham Young, Hawaiian-born Francisco made a name for himself with the Arizona Cardinals as a special teams player (59 tackles during four years).
He keeps turning up at big moments, as he was the guy Pittsburgh's James Harrison punched in Super Bowl XLIII (and was nearest Santonio Holmes' game-winning touchdown), and then made it back to the title game last year with Indianapolis.
Granted, both teams lost, but he's the only player on the roster with two conference championships. And he did lead Kahuku High to a state title in 2000.
Francisco is one of a handful of players brought here to fix the special teams. They've installed him as the protector on the punt team, the last guy in front of Jason Baker who calls out the blocking scheme. The Panthers were last in the league in the comprehensive Dallas Morning News rankings, so it's clear they need the help. Francisco's a tough, smart player who lends some immediate credence to a unit full of rookies and young players. He'll play some defense in a pinch (11 career starts), but that's not why he's here.
Players were on their toes Saturday morning, since owner Jerry Richardson made his annual visit to camp.
Richardson rode around on a golf cart as normal, but instead of his usual convertible, it was a black Wofford model with Panthers and Milliken logos and a cover on top. That nearly came in handy, as at one point during practice Baker lofted a punt that landed within 5 yards of the cart as Richardson drove with his back to the action.
Panthers receiver Steve Smith rode with Richardson a bit, but he's also continuing his behind-the-scenes work as a leader. On a field they weren't using for practice. He ran sprints with guard Duke Robinson, who's out until he can drop some weight.
It's a small thing (and he needed to keep his legs going anyway), but indicative of the kinds of things Smith does that people don't always see.
One of the joys of camp since 2003 had been watching left tackle Jordan Gross and defensive end Julius Peppers square off in individual drills. It's just not the same with Everette Brown across from Gross.
The veteran tackle manhandles the young rusher regularly. That's no shame on Brown, he's getting worked over by one of the best in the game.
Receiver Kenny Moore continues to make big plays in camp, hauling in a pair of deep balls over Richard Marshall.
When Smith returns from his broken arm, it's far from a cinch that Moore's the one who'll return to the bench.
Cornerback Chris Gamble said he's been impressed with a number of the young corners, including seventh-round picks Robert McClain and R.J. Stanford. For a group of players who lack pedigree, the Panthers have a number of intriguing options, including Captain Munnerlyn, C.J. Wilson and Marcus Walker.
"I told the guys I ordered it up just perfect, because we had two real hot days. Then Marty has this new machine down here that can control the weather and made it nice, about 82 degrees this morning." Fox, taking credit for the cool, overcast morning practice thanks to general manager Marty Hurney's miracle invention.