SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- If you were looking for rookies taped to goalposts, or frivolity and celebrations, you were in the wrong place. In fact, other than a bucket of ice water dumped on defensive end Greg Hardy, there was nothing to signify that Wednesday was the last day of the Carolina Panthers 2010 training camp.
Maybe they were being nice, but maybe they were just too tired.
"This camp was definitely intense," defensive end Everette Brown said, dripping with sweat after Wednesday morning's session. "There were a lot of challenging days."
That was the point of this camp, to push a young team to see how they'd react and who would step into bigger roles.
Panthers coach John Fox referred to his roster as "basically, just a bunch of guys I didn't know that well." So he pushed them throughout, with 15 of the 26 practices in full pads, and enough tempo in the non-padded ones to make them competitive.
Coupled with the natural ebullience of youth, it made this a different camp than in years past.
"Veterans realize that the mental part of the game is so much more important than the actual physical part of it," linebacker Jon Beason said. "Vets know how to, when to, where to. For them in camp, they want to get in shape. Once they're in shape, they're trying to make it out of camp without getting hurt, because they know the season is coming up.
"Young guys come in and they're trying to earn a spot. They don't know any better, so practices are full speed every snap, everything you have just to prove you belong and make a name for yourself because the coaches don't know you."
Fox said he was pleased with the work he saw, and thinks he has a better handle on his roster than when he walked in the door.
In general, the Panthers found out they have better depth than anticipated at a few positions (defensive end, cornerback, quarterback), but still have some questions to be answered (defensive tackle, second wide receiver). There's still time to sort out some of the issues, as the Panthers will still practice once a day between now and the regular season, with three more exhibitions left.
But gone are the days of wall-to-wall football, and that's a relief to the guys who have been through a few camps here.
Only 10 players are left from the last year of every day two-a-days (2006), and those players know this camp wasn't much less intense as some of those earlier versions.
Tackle Jordan Gross said this was clearly the toughest camp since the schedule was pulled back four camps ago, but it didn't leave them searching for bodies. While the small nicks and minor injuries piled up, the Panthers got through three weeks at Wofford without big traumatic injuries, like nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu's torn Achilles that started last year's avalanche of problems on the defensive line.
"We haven't had, knock on wood, a whole lot of big injuries this camp," Gross said. "Maybe that comes from healthier, younger bodies. We've had a lot of reps and a lot of full-padded days and that probably comes from youth and inexperience, too. The coaches wanting to make sure we know what we're doing and can see who's tough and who isn't out there, so we've been tested that way."
Tight end Jeff King said he thinks the aggressive camps under Fox have been a factor in the Panthers ability to play well late in seasons. The Panthers are 23-12 in eight Decembers under Fox, a .657 winning percentage that dwarfs his 48-45 record the rest of the year (.516).
"I think we had a good tough camp. I think it's what we needed, so hopefully we can carry that over," King said. "The thing around here is, we've played well in Decembers. We've played well late in the year. I think that comes from being a little mentally tough. Whether you build that in Spartanburg or throughout the season I can't put my finger on it.
"We have played well late in the year. But we have to start better than we have. We've been hit-or-miss to start the season the last couple years. We need to start faster, because we've finished strong the last couple years."
A fast start may be difficult, given so many pieces that have to fit together over the next three weeks. As well as things went, players will still admit they're learning each other, and that's a recipe for some missteps early.
"There's been times we've had to be patient with some things," quarterback Matt Moore said. "Guys just learning, how to and what to. But also ... there are still very good veteran players on this team. For those young guys coming down here, those guys get a chance to see how guys are off the field, what to do, training room, film, getting ready for the next day."
All in all, Fox termed it "a very productive camp."
"We grew some," Fox said. "We've still got camp in Charlotte ahead of us. ... If we work like we did up until now, we should be in good shape.
"Just watching guys grow. Guys I didn't know, or have a great amount of past with. Kind of watching them gel together. I like the way they went about their business."